“Pyrophobia” is the term for a fear of fire that’s so intense it affects a person’s functioning and daily life.
Pyrophobia is one of many specific phobias, which are a type of anxiety disorder. Someone with a specific phobia has an overwhelming, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger in their present situation.
Specific phobias are rather common. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 12.5 percent of people in the United States will experience a specific phobia at some point in their lifetime.
People with pyrophobia may feel intense anxiety or panic while thinking about, talking about, or being around fire.
Continue reading to learn more about pyrophobia, what may cause it, and how it can be treated.
The symptoms of specific phobias such as pyrophobia can be both psychological and physical.
The emotional or psychological symptoms of pyrophobia can include:
- sudden feelings of intense, unreasonable fear when thinking about, speaking about, or being around fire
- an inability to control your feelings of fear even though you know they are irrational or unreasonable
- avoidance of fire or situations where fire may be present
- difficulty functioning or going about your day-to-day activities due to your fear of fire
Many of the physical symptoms of pyrophobia are similar to those of the “fight or flight” response, which is how your body responds to a threatening or stressful situation.
The physical symptoms of pyrophobia can include:
- fast heartbeat
- shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- tightness in your chest
- shaking or trembling
- dry mouth
- needing to go to the bathroom
- feeling dizzy or faint
Symptoms in children
Children can also experience pyrophobia. They may show the following symptoms in response to fire:
- freezing up
- throwing a tantrum
- refusing to leave a parent’s side
- not wanting to talk about or approach a fire
There are many different types of specific phobias, but little is known about what causes them. Causes may include one or a combination of the following:
A negative experience
Someone with pyrophobia may have had a bad experience around fire, such as being burned, being caught in a fire, or losing something (such as a home) to fire.
Genetics, learned behavior, or both
One recent review of 25 studies found that children of parents with an anxiety disorder were more likely to have an anxiety disorder than children whose parents didn’t have one.
Although specific phobias seem to run in families, it’s unclear if they are inherited or learned. For example, if someone close to you, such as a parent or loved one, has an intense fear of fire, you may learn to fear fire as well.
We all perceive and process fear differently. Some people may tend to be more anxious than others.
Pyrophobia may be just an inconvenience that you find ways to work around. For example, you may choose to avoid events involving fireworks or bonfires.
However, in some cases phobias can be more serious. Sometimes they can significantly disrupt your work, school, or home life.
If your fear of fire is so severe that it’s impacting your ability to function, talk to your doctor. They can work with you to assess your condition and come up with a treatment plan.
The first part of the diagnostic process is an interview. Your doctor will ask you about your phobia and your symptoms. They’ll also take your medical and psychiatric history.
Your doctor may also use diagnostic criteria, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides guidelines for diagnosing mental disorders.
help if you have Pyrophobia
If you have a fear of fire that’s interfering with your ability to function, see your doctor or a mental health professional. There are highly effective treatment options available to you. The following resources may be helpful:
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline (1-800-662-4357) offers confidential treatment and referral services for people with mental health or substance use disorders.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine (1-800-950-6264) answers questions about mental illness, discusses treatment, and helps people find support services.
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) provides resources for learning about anxiety, finding a therapist, and getting support.
There are several treatment options available to people with specific phobias such as pyrophobia.
Exposure therapy aids people in confronting their fears. It uses gradual, repetitive exposure to the thing you fear to help you learn to manage your feelings, anxiety, or panic.
If you have pyrophobia, the progression of exposure therapy may go something like this:
- Thinking or talking about fire
- Viewing pictures or videos of fire
- Being around a fire at a distance
- Getting closer to or standing next to a fire
There are a few variations of exposure therapy. The one we’ve discussed above is called graded exposure. Another type of exposure therapy is flooding, which exposes you to the most difficult task first.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy. It involves working with your therapist to learn strategies to help you manage your fear and anxiety.
You’ll discuss your fears and feelings with your therapist, who will work closely with you to help you understand how these thought patterns contribute to your anxiety symptoms.
Then, you and your therapist will work together to change these thought patterns in order to diminish or eliminate your symptoms. Throughout treatment, your therapist will reinforce the idea that the object of your fear poses little to no danger to you.
You may also learn strategies to stay calm when faced with fire. Examples include relaxation techniques and breathing control.
In many cases, exposure therapy and CBT can effectively treat a phobia. However, sometimes medications may be used to help reduce your anxiety symptoms.
Some examples of medications a doctor may prescribe for this purpose include:
- Benzodiazepines. These are sedative drugs that can help you relax. They’re usually used in the short term because they can be addictive.
- Antidepressants. Some antidepressants are also effective in treating anxiety. They change the way your brain uses certain chemicals that affect your mood.
- Beta-blockers. These medications are used to treat high blood pressure, but they can also ease anxiety symptoms such as fast heartbeat or trembling.
Most people who have a specific phobia can lessen their fear through the right treatment.
If you have a specific phobia that affects your day-to-day activities, it’s important to seek treatment.
Pyrophobia is a specific phobia characterized by a fear of fire. People with specific phobias feel an extreme, irrational level of anxiety about things that pose little to no real danger.
While some people may view their pyrophobia as simply inconvenient, other people may experience fear or panic that affects their daily functioning.
Pyrophobia can be effectively treated through exposure therapy as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. If you’re experiencing severe pyrophobia, speak to your doctor about your treatment options.