Ornithophobia is the irrational, causeless fear of birds. It is a specific phobia, meaning that it is a psychological trait that causes unreasonable and irrational fear and anxiety as a result of exposure to a certain type of creature or object. Animals are often the object of such specific phobias, though the fear of spiders, insects, mice, snakes, and other smaller creatures are much more prevalent than ornithophobia. Phobias can take many different forms and are not always caused by physical objects; for example, triskaidekaphobia is the irrational fear of the number 13 and nyctophobia is the unreasonable fear of darkness.
While ornithophobia always involves birds, it is not always generalized to include all birds. Some people only fear large birds or birds of prey. The phobia can also present itself in a variety of ways. In some cases, the ornithophobic individual may simply be highly uncomfortable around birds. in other cases, he might fear an imminent attack by the birds.
Direct exposure to birds is not the only thing that can trigger discomfort in someone who fears birds; this is true of all phobias. In some cases, simply thinking about the object of a phobia can lead to some anxiety. Sounds or smells can also lead to a feeling of discomfort. In extreme cases, usually involving direct exposure, an individual with a phobia can experience a full-fledged panic attack involving dizziness, nausea, shaking, and heart palpitations. Such an attack can also involve sweating, an inability to think or speak clearly, and a loss of motor control.
Ornithophobia and other phobias tend to present themselves when an individual is in childhood or early adolescence. Sometimes, the phobia exists because of some trauma early on in the child's life, such as an attack by a particularly vicious bird, while in other cases the fear has no apparent cause. Phobias, especially those relating to animals, are generally more common in women than in men.
Although it can be controllable, ornithophobia can be a very complicated and restricting disorder to have. In mild cases, it merely results in discomfort and some anxiety. Sometimes, though, the fear of encountering birds can be so overwhelming that the afflicted individual fears leaving his home at all. This renders such activities as beach trips, picnics, and walks through the park nearly impossible in most parts of the world given the widespread existence of birds.
Ornithophobia treatment has been shown to be quite successful in many cases. Treatment usually involves cognitive-behavior treatment techniques in which a therapist talks the fearful individual through his fear. Therapists also teach relaxation techniques to minimize the effects of panic attacks and other fear-related symptoms. In very severe cases, medication and hypnosis can be used to treat ornithophobia and other phobias.