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Agoraphobia in Children and Adolescents

By Josephine Elia, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Professor of Pediatrics; Attending Physician, Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University; Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children

Agoraphobia is a persistent fear of being trapped in public situations or places with no way to escape easily and no one to help.

Agoraphobia may develop in adolescents, particularly those who have panic attacks, but is uncommon in children.

Symptoms of Agoraphobia

Adolescents experience intense fear or anxiety during or before activities such as

  • Using public transportation

  • Being in open spaces

  • Being in enclosed public spaces (such as a store or movie theater)

  • Standing in line or being in a crowd

  • Being outside the home alone

Adolescents may have panic attacks when they try to do the distressing activity. They may then avoid that activity.

Diagnosis of Agoraphobia

  • Symptoms

For agoraphobia to be diagnosed, the fear or anxiety must

  • Persist for 6 months or more

  • Cause significant distress

  • Interfere with social, academic, or other functions

Treatment of Agoraphobia

  • Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy is especially useful for agoraphobia symptoms.

Drugs rarely help adolescents with agoraphobia, except to help control panic attacks.