Agoraphobia is, by strict etymological definition, the fear of open spaces. However, it tends to be most commonly used as a clinical medical term for those who have a fear of being outside. These fear can become so crippling that the sufferer will avoid leaving their home altogether, which in turn has a huge impact on their quality of life and working prospects.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder, a clinical grouping of mental health issues for which there is no definitive known cause. It is often partnered with another anxiety disorder, such as Social Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, though it can be a standalone issue. It has also been linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is important to know if the agoraphobia has an underlying cause or if it is a single issue, as if one is treated for the actual condition (OCD or SAD), then the agoraphobia itself usually fades.
In cases where agoraphobia is the only anxiety disorder present, sufferers will feel an overwhelming fear of being outside. This can sometimes just be in unfamiliar or crowded places, but some affected by agoraphobia will not wish to be out of their home at all. If an agoraphobia is required to leave their home, they will become increasingly panicked – often suffering anxiety attacks and physical fear symptoms, such as shaking or feeling sick.
The main treatment for agoraphobia is exposure therapy, whereby a person gradually increases the amount of time they spend outside. This is usually done with psychiatric assistance and observation. While agoraphobia can never be cured, it can be managed, and with effective treatment sufferers can go on to live normal, happy lives.