Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Phobias and #Migraines

Phobia is a common word and everyone knows that a phobia is an intense irrational fear of something. Personally I have a pretty severe case of arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. Okay, so we're all on the same page here, right? Phobia = Fear.
That being said, maybe you can understand why it bugs me to no end that phobia is used to describe the many sensitivities experienced during a migraine. Photophobia being a sensitivity to light, phonophobia being a sensitivity to sound and osmophobia being a sensitivity to smells. I object to these technical terms because I am not afraid on light, sound or smell. The experience of these sensitivities is so different than the experience of a phobia that just hearing the word used in association is unsettling. 

Obviously, doctors and patients understand what these terms mean and are not confusing them with fear. But that does nothing to stop it from bugging me. I want the term to fit the experience. Aren't migraines and migraineurs misunderstood enough? Do we really need a term like phobia (understood as an irrational fear) being used to describe our very real, very common symptoms, which have nothing to do with fear? It just feels a bit dismissive and very inaccurate.

I don't expect my disapproval to bring about any change on this matter. I don't even imagine there are many who are bothered by it all. This is simply how I feel. 


  1. I totally agree with you. I don't say photophobia, I say my headache is, "photo-sensitive". Just mean that the migraine is sensitive to light.

  2. Thank you for this. On my disability application my neurologist listed "sensory disorder of smell, (osmophobia) 784.1". (It may have been 781.4 can't remember shit.) Anyway....there's also "olfactophobe" as alternative. These "disorders" really need RE-NAMING. The root "phobia" implies a mental health diagnosis and that contributes to the misapprehension/stigma of migraine- that somehow it's an irrational, psychosomatic (whatever the heck that means anymore with all our advancements in neuroscience, etc.). IN Mental health diagnosis, the typical treatment involves exposure to the dreaded thing- so in my case that would mean incrementally increasing my exposure to chemical fragrances; e.g., perfume or most deodorants. For more than 10 years I was continually exposed to this thing that I fear and guess what? My sensitivity INCREASED and mygraine transformed to chronic. Nope- definitely treatable like your typical phobia.