While it is true that snakes have little fame among people and that stories about them have earned them a reputation as very dangerous animals, the reality is that rarely does a coincidence with a snake pose a real threat to a person’s life.

Despite this, ofidiophobia or snake phobia is one of the most common specific phobias worldwide. Throughout this article we will see what it consists of and how it manifests itself, as well as its possible causes and most effective treatments.

What is ophidiophobia?

Ofidiophobia is a specific anxiety disorder in which a person experiences an exacerbated, irrational, and uncontrollable fear of snakes.
Although experiencing a certain degree of fear in the presence of one of these reptiles is absolutely natural, in ophidiophobia the fear must be unjustified and exaggerated compared to the real threat posed by the situation.

Some keys that help us to differentiate between a normal and adaptive fear of snakes and a phobia is the behavior presented by the person in situations where the animal does not pose a danger. These situations can range from the fear experienced when seeing them in a zoo, to experiencing anxious symptoms simply by looking at a picture or a toy reproduction.

The phobia to the snakes or ofidiofobia is found inside another type of phobia something more generalized: the herpetofobia, which is included inside the zoophobias . Herpetophobia refers to an intense and exaggerated fear of any kind of reptile.

What symptoms do you have?

Like other phobias or specific anxiety disorders, ofidiophobia has a series of symptoms typical of this type of disorder. The symptoms of these can be divided into three main groups: physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioural symptoms.

As is usual with all types of conditions, there is no common and rigid pattern of symptoms , but they can vary both in their incidence and in their degree of intensity. These individual differences in the manifestation of symptoms will change according to the intensity of the fear experienced by the person.

1. Physical symptoms

When a person with ophidiophobia is in a situation involving the appearance of any type of snake, hyperactivity of the autonomic nervous system will be automatically triggered.

This hyperactivity generates a reaction in the organism which suffers a great amount of changes and alterations. Within these changes we find the following.

  • Acceleration of heart rate .
  • Feeling dizzy and dizzy.
  • Nausea.
  • Uncontrollable tremors
  • Choking sensation.
  • Increased sweating .
  • Sensation of pressure in the chest.
  • Confusion.
  • Syncopes or fainting spells.
  • Gastro-intestinal disturbances.

Cognitive symptoms

In order for the physical symptoms to appear in the presence of a snake, the person must also possess a series of prior cognitive symptoms. This cognitive symptomatology is given by an association of the phobic stimulus with a series of irrational ideas and beliefs about these reptiles .

These distorted beliefs favour the development of phobia, and are reflected in the following way.

  • Intrusive, involuntary and uncontrollable beliefs and thoughts about snakes.
  • Unpleasant and aversive mental images.
  • Obsessive speculations associated with snakes.
  • Fear of not being able to manage the situation properly and of losing control.
  • Sense of unreality.

3. Behavioral symptoms

Finally, as with all conditions where fear and anxiety are beyond a person’s control, ophidiophobia also includes a range of behavioural symptoms that appear in response to the sighting or perception of aversive stimuli.

These acts are carried out with the intention of either directly avoiding the situation that causes the discomfort, or escaping as quickly as possible once the aversive stimulus has appeared. These behaviours are known as escape and avoidance behaviours .

The behaviors known as avoidance behaviors are carried out with the intention of avoiding an encounter with any type of snake. In them, the person carries out all kinds of behaviours to avoid the stimulus that is the object of the phobia and thus avoid experiencing the sensations of anguish and anxiety that this provokes.

For example, these avoidance behaviors may be reflected in the avoidance or constant refusal to visit zoos or any type of facility where these reptiles may appear; as well as avoiding travel to exotic countries.

Finally, escape behaviours appear when the person has not been able to avoid encountering the phobic stimulus , and once he has experienced the sensation of discomfort he will carry out all kinds of behaviours that allow him to escape from the current situation as soon and quickly as possible.

What causes this phobia?

One of the main characteristics of phobias is the impossibility, in most cases, of defining the specific origin of a phobia. However, there are a number of factors that can facilitate the appearance, development and maintenance of a phobia.

Someone with a genetic predisposition to suffer the effects of stress to a greater extent , accompanied by the experience of a highly traumatic or very high emotional load in which the aversive stimulus (in this case snakes) has a relevant role, may be much more vulnerable when it comes to developing a phobia.

However, in the specific case of snakes, there are some theories that expose other factors, besides genetics and traumatic experience, which may justify the intense fear that a person feels towards them.

The first theory points to the idea that ophidiophobia has an evolutionary basis that has not disappeared in some people. These hypotheses hold that in the past the danger that snakes posed to the physical integrity of humans was much higher, so the sense of alertness and danger towards this reptile was much more intense. This feeling would have lasted until today in some of these people who suffer from ofidiophobia.

On the other hand, the mythology surrounding this animal and the symbolism associated with it facilitate the development and maintenance of these fears and irrational and aversive beliefs regarding snakes.

Is there a treatment?

In the case that the person suffers from a real ordeal, and not a normal fear of snakes, an appropriate treatment can reduce, and even eliminate, the anxiety response associated with the aversive stimulus.
The high effectiveness of psychological interventions in the treatment of phobias has made them the main method of choice when it comes to alleviating symptoms.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy in which, by means of cognitive restructuring, the patient’s distorted thoughts are modified, as well as techniques such as systematic desensitization or live exposure , and training in relaxation techniques, is highly effective and usually has very satisfactory results on the patient.