What Is It, Causes, Signs, Symptoms, and More
Editors:Alyssa Haag,Emily Miao, PharmD
Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS
Copyeditor:Sadia Zaman, MBBS, BSc
What is astraphobia?
Astraphobia, also known as brontophobia, is the extreme and irrational fear of thunderstorms and lightning. The term astraphobia derives from the Greek words ‘astrape,’ and ‘phobos,’ which mean lightning and fear, respectively. It is a type of phobia, which is defined as a persistent and excessive fear of certain objects or situations that can interfere with a person’s daily functioning. An individual with astraphobia may feel intense anxiety when preparing for a thunderstorm, watch the weather forecast excessively, and have panic attacks during a storm.
What causes astraphobia?
Astraphobia can be caused by past traumatic events linked to thunderstorms and lightning. For example, if an individual witnesses someone getting hurt by thunder and lightning, they may later develop a phobia of thunderstorms and lightning. Those who are more prone to anxiety and fear are also more likely to develop astraphobia, as well as those with autism and those with sensory processing disorders (i.e., those who have difficulty handling sensory information).
What are the signs and symptoms of astraphobia?
Signs and symptoms of astraphobia may include chest pain, numbness, nausea, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, and/or sweaty palms either during a thunderstorm or before one begins. One may also have an obsessive desire to monitor the storm by checking the weather forecast consistently; cling to others for a sense of safety and protection; or compulsively hide in a closet, bathroom, bathtub, or under the bed to seek shelter during a storm or periods of bad weather. An individual with astraphobia may understand that these feelings are irrational and overblown, however, they are unable to control their physical, emotional, or psychological reactions. They may also sweat, shake, and cry; all of which can worsen when they are alone. In extreme cases, astraphobia can cause an individual to be afraid to leave the home, cancel plans at even a slight possibility of a storm, and avoid all situations where a storm may be present (e.g., camping).
How is astraphobia diagnosed?
Astraphobia is a type of specific phobia that is typically diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional following the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The symptoms meet the criteria for diagnosis if the individual suffers from a persistent fear of storms that is unreasonable or excessive; exposure to thunderstorms results in an anxiety response (e.g., panic attacks, tantrums, clinging, crying, or freezing); they realize that their fear is disproportionate to the perceived threat or danger (this is not always present in children); they take steps to avoid the object or situation they fear, or endure such experiences with intense distress or anxiety; and the phobic reaction interferes with the individual’s normal routine and relationships, or causes significant distress. Additionally, the phobia has to have persisted for a period of time, usually six months or longer. These symptoms cannot be attributed to another mental condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While there is no single test to determine if the person is suffering from astraphobia, healthcare practitioners will form a diagnosis based on the patient's history and symptoms during the clinical interview.
How do you overcome astraphobia?
To help overcome astraphobia if the individual is a child, the parent or guardian may try to soothe their child’s fears while remaining calm themselves. A combination of reassurance and distraction can help the child cope. Parents also find that having a routine or presenting a distraction, such as a movie, on a rainy day can help give the child something to look forward to during a storm.For adults, cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques are often used in astraphobia treatment. Mental health professionals may teach the individual soothing messages to repeat during storms, or visualization exercises that can be used to calm fears. Overall, cognitive behavioral therapy can allow the individual to realize that their fear is in fact irrational and the likelihood of their worst fears coming true is very low. Exposure therapy is another common technique used to overcome phobias, in which the individual is gradually exposed to their source of fear without posing any real danger. In addition to therapy, a clinician may choose to prescribe medications such as serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for the management of phobias.
What are the most important facts to know about astraphobia?
Astraphobia is a type of specific phobia where the individual has an irrational fear of thunder and lightning, to the point where the fear interferes with daily functioning and activities. It is a common phobia in children and can be seen in those who have experienced a negative or traumatic event associated with storms. Individuals with astraphobia tend to check the weather report frequently and seek shelter when there are any signs of bad weather. Diagnosis follows that of other specific phobias and is made by a licensed mental health professional following the DSM-V criteria. In order for diagnosis, the fear must cause significant distress in daily living and must be persistent, usually lasting 6 months or longer. Treatment for astraphobia includes consoling children and offering cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy to adults. Clinicians may also choose to prescribe medications such as SSRIs to help manage the symptoms of astraphobia.
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Resources for research and reference
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2020, August 31). Sensory processing disorder (SPD) In familydoctor.org: Diseases and conditions. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://familydoctor.org/condition/vision-loss/
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Cleveland Clinic. Astraphobia: Diagnosis, Causes &; Treatment. In Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved December 15, 2021 from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22101-astraphobia.Fritscher, L. (2020). Do you fear thunder and lightning? In Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/fear-thunder-lighting-2671846