Iophobia (fear of being poisoned): symptoms, causes and treatment

There are as many phobias as there are objects, stimuli or situations in the world. In this article we will know iophobia, which is the phobia of poisoning, Either accidentally or caused.

But why does this phobia appear? What are the symptoms? How can we deal with it? We will answer all these questions and finally make your differential diagnosis.

    Iophobia: what does it consist of?

    The word iophobia comes from the Greek “is” (poison, toxic) and “phobos” (phobia, fear). Therefore, iophobia consists of disproportionate fear or phobia of poison. More precisely, it is an abnormal and unjustified fear of poison, of being poisoned or poisonous.

    Thus, iophobia is the feeling of fear or fear of consuming, ingesting, breathing or having any type of contact with a toxic substance; on the other hand, the person may also be afraid of being accidentally poisoned, and therefore of iophobia it has to do with toxicophobia or toxophobia.

      A specific phobia: the symptoms

      Iophobia consists of a specific phobia, because in this case, one is afraid of a specific stimulus or situation. In specific phobias, it is generated in the person intense fear or anxiety about this stimulus or situation, For at least 6 months.

      In iophobia, phobic situations would be the possibility of poisoning and / or dying from poisoning, and objects or stimuli would for example be substances, chemicals, liquids, etc.

      These feelings of fear that arise in the individual, they cause the intense need to escape the stimulus, As well as avoiding both exposure to it and situations where it might arise (if the situations are not avoided, they are endured with high anxiety or discomfort).

      All of these symptoms alter and interfere with a person’s normal functioning in all areas of his life.

      the causes

      There can be several causes of the appearance of iophobia (the origin can be various). Let’s look at some of them:

      1. Packaging

      Receive or repeatedly see news from people who have been poisoned (and / or who have died of intoxication), accidentally or provoked (by themselves or by third parties), as well as a personal predisposition or vulnerability to phobia, can generate iophobia.

      We may also have experienced a poisoning situation ourselves (traumatic experience). Thus, the person with iophobia can acquire the phobia conditioned by past experiences (Own or vicar).

      As we have seen, if it is vicarious, it is produced by visualization of a poisoning through direct observation, reading or audiovisual media.

      2. Other related phobias

      It is also possible that the person already has a certain fear (or directly, a phobia) of different plants and animals.

      We can relate this to Seligman’s preparation theory, Which argues that there would be certain stimuli or situations more likely to trigger phobias (since they would be phylogenetically prepared, that is, we would “inherit” these fears from our ancestors when faced with life-threatening or life-threatening situations). For example, fear of lions, of a snake bite or of certain herbs or poisonous substances (all of these stimuli can cause death).

      Thus, the human being would have “inherited” the fact of being afraid of certain animals or plants and would have learned to avoid them, feeling an innate fear or a disgust towards them.

      3. Predisposition

      We also find a predisposition (whether genetic, biological, social …) at the origin of many phobias, including iophobia. Thus, the person could have this vulnerability, added to the generalization of fears before dying or falling ill because of an external agent not directly visible (for example a toxic substance, a bacterium, etc.).

      It would be accomplished that way an adaptive function when the person would avoid these stimuli which could lead to death (Increase your chances of survival)


      The most effective psychological therapy today for treating specific phobias is Exposure therapy. In this type of therapy, the individual is exposed to the stimulus or the feared situation (usually gradually after the development of a hierarchy of items between the patient and the therapist).

      In the case of iophobia, the exposure will not be “real”, that is, the subject will not be exposed to being poisoned in a real way, but the therapy can be carried out by exposure in imagination ( where the individual must imagine in great detail he is poisoned). On the other hand, it will also be possible to work on situations avoided by the subject due to iophobia.

      We can illustrate all this with an example; Imagine a person with iophobia who does not drink any beverage served in a restaurant. In this case, the therapy would consist in exposing the subject to the fact that he is drinking from the glasses which are served to him and that he is not avoiding this situation. Another example would be exposing the subject to the use of cleaning products or simply eating out.

      On another side, cognitive restructuring technique can also be used (As part of cognitive behavioral therapy); this will aim to discuss the patient’s irrational beliefs and fears, as well as the meaning attributed to those beliefs, as well as the poison itself.

        differential diagnosis

        Finally, a good differential diagnosis must be made, mainly with:

        1. TOC

        Patients with OCD they can manifest obsessions and compulsions related to cleanliness (It is not iophobia per se).

        2. Psychotic disorders

        Patients with schizophrenia, delusional or other disorders may the illusion of being poisoned (It wouldn’t be iophobia either).

        Bibliographical references:

        • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Flight. 1 and 2. Madrid. 21st century (chapters 1-8, 16-18).
        • Belloch, A .; Sandín, B. I Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of psychopathology. Volumes I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
        • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-5. Masson, Barcelona.

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