Summertime is prime time for developing entomophobia, a fear of bugs such as ticks as well as other mites like scabies, bed bugs, and lice. Entomophobia is oftentimes referred to as acarophobia or insectophobia. Wet winters and rainy springs mean there’s plenty of dense vegetation in woods and backyards, and unfortunately, ticks thrive in this environment. Not all ticks carry disease, but tickborne illnesses are found in areas across the country. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, for example, occurs primarily in the southern and mid-Atlantic states, while Lyme disease (the most common tick-borne illness) is found mostly in the Northeast and the upper Midwest. More than 30,000 cases are reported annually in the United States and many more cases probably are not reported. Up to 300,000 Americans come down with Lyme disease every year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The vast majority of bites from disease-causing ticks occur in spring and summer, when ticks are most active and when people tend to spend more time in the great outdoors.

If you’ve got a phobia of bugs such as ticks, it is a little different from having a phobia about snakes and spiders. “There is a little more reality to this one,” says Beth Salcedo, MD, of The Ross Center, an outpatient mental health treatment center in Washington, DC. “Most people won’t get bitten by a snake or spider, but you do hear about people being bitten by ticks.”

Still, walking from the house to the car or being at the playground with the kids doesn’t confer a lot of risk, she says. “If you find yourself with such fear that you worry that just walking to your car will cause you to be bitten by a tick, and then get Lyme disease, and then end up in a nursing home due to complications, this is a phobia that should be treated like any other phobia,” Dr. Salcedo says.

Symptoms of Entomophobia

Individuals with entomophobia can experience an overwhelming itch or an unpleasant crawling sensation all over or underneath their skin. They may have such anxious thoughts about being bitten by a tick that they are afraid to go outside. Entomophobia can cause the same symptoms as other phobias. These symptoms may include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and shortness of breath

Treatment Options for Fear of Bugs

Exposure therapy can be highly effective, Dr. Salcedo says. “Imaginary exposure,” in which the person just thinks about ticks, may be the first step in therapy, she explains. Next, the person may be shown a cartoon picture of a tick, and then a photograph of an actual tick, and then a video of a tick. “It depends on the individual person and how much they can handle,”the doctor explains. “The last thing you want to do is expose them to something they are not ready for. You have to take it slowly.” Otherwise, if exposure therapy proceeds too rapidly, the person may be tempted to drop out of treatment altogether, she says.

Overcoming a fear of bugs with exposure therapy is certainly possible, but success depends on whether the person sticks with treatment or not. “Some people are helped with just one visit, but in other cases, it could take 20 visits,” Dr. Salcedo says. Treatment is highly individual, she adds.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) also can be useful. “The therapist will have the person challenge their own thoughts about ticks,”Dr.  Salcedo says. “They will write down the thought, look at it and think about it, and then replace it with a more appropriate thought—such as that there are ticks in this part of the country, but not in this neighborhood.”

Another appropriate thought could be that the odds of getting Lyme disease from an individual deer tick bite are fairly low; consider that even in tick-ridden areas, fewer than 5% of bites result in an infection.

Action Steps

Educate yourself about the real risk of ticks in your area, Dr. Salcedo advises. If you live in an area that has a high tick population, you’ll want to take more protective measures than someone who lives in an area with very few ticks.

Reduce your risk of getting bitten by a tick. Avoid tick habitats as much as you can and if you are in an area known to be infested while hiking, remain in the middle of the trails and avoid shrubs and bushes—ticks tend to hide in these.

Keep your skin covered when outside in an area known to be infested with ticks: wear light colored clothing and wear long sleeves. Tuck long pants into your socks.

Use insect repellents with DEET for your skin and permethrin for your clothing.

Treat your pets for ticks and perform regular tick checks on them, especially when they come in from being outside.

Last Updated: Sep 12, 2019