A fear of heights, also known as acrophobia, is a common phobia in the population. Acrophobia is classified as a specific phobia. If you have a fear of heights, you may have a fear of falling, or might get dizzy when looking down. One of the possible contributors to having a fear of heights is a problem with balance and your vestibular system, located in your inner ear. Looking down from high above may trigger a spinning sensation, thereby making you nauseous. You might also get irritable as you are scared to move for fear of falling.
Exposure therapy is the primary treatment for acrophobia. Exposure work involves systematic desensitization, where less threatening degrees of the feared stimuli are presented. As each stimulus is repeatedly presented and you no longer have anxiety to the exposure, then you are exposed to a more threatening stimulus on your “fear ladder.” As you climb the fear ladder, you become “desensitized” to the less threatening feared stimuli. Eventually, you will be able to climb to the top of the fear ladder, and you will be able to eradicate your fear of heights with this exposure-desensitization process.
When beginning exposure therapy, it could lead to an initial increase in anxiety. This would be in the form of increased anticipatory anxiety (anxiety about doing the exposure) and phobic anxiety (anxiety on exposure). The exposures may be so anxiety-provoking that a panic attack may result. In these cases where the exposure work triggers severe anxiety symptoms, then medication may be needed on a temporary basis to address the anxiety when starting exposure therapy. Benzodiazepines such as Klonopin (clonazepam) can be started to address the anticipatory anxiety and phobic anxiety when initiating exposure therapy for the fear of heights, or acrophobia.