What is Hydrophobia?
Hydrophobia - Fear of water or of rabies.
Symptoms of Hydrophobia in children
The condition is prevalent in young children in whom it typically appears before the age of five years and it manifests itself as an intense fear of bathing. This may later extend to any circumstance in which the child is expected to enter water (for example, paddling in streams or at the seaside). Most parents of water phobic children cannot remember a time when their child did not scream upon being bathed. It is not unusual for a newborn baby to cry when bathed for the first time. However, more often than not, babies soon not only become accustomed to the bath but obviously enjoy the whole experience. The phobic baby continues to cry each time he is placed in the water.
As the child grows older and more able to give voice to his fears, he may plead for hours not to be bathed and turn bath time into a battleground. In the most severely affected children, parents may have to resort to cutting hair very short and giving sponge baths and it is these families who usually appear at clinics seeking help.
Symptoms of Hydrophobia in adults
Figures for the incidence of water phobia in adults are not available but adults do not commonly come forward for treatment. This is the case for very many phobias and it can be safely suggested that there may be a higher number of sufferers than is indicated by available data.
However, the picture that emerges in adults appears to be somewhat different from that for children. Although fear of bathing is not unknown in adults, the main focus of fear appears to be on drowning and on being submerged. This is frequently connected with irrational cognitions surrounding water, such as fear of being suddenly engulfed by the sea, while sitting on the beach, or fear that a fish tank full of water will shatter and drown the person.
Treatment of Hydrophobia
As mentioned above, very few water phobic adults seek help for their condition, hence treatment has almost entirely been aimed at children. The most effective treatment for children appears to be a combination of modelling and graduated, in vivo exposure to water.
One study compared three different treatments with a control group. A number of highly fearful children of both sexes, aged between three and eight years, were arbitrarily placed in one of four groups.
It is possible to devise a similar treatment plan for young children with bathing phobia, based on modelling and graduated exposure, which is effective. Studies also indicate that a reduction of fear in one aspect of water phobia, such as bathing, significantly reduces anxiety in other situations, for example, going to the beach. It is hoped that more research into, and understanding of, the mechanisms underlying water phobia will enable further refinements in treatment programmes to be made, particularly with regard to adult sufferers.