[ klaw-struh-foh-bee-uh ]
/ ˌklɔ strəˈfoʊ bi ə /
Save This Word!

noun Psychiatry.
an irrational or disproportionate fear of being in small or confined places and being unable to escape.


Click for a side-by-side comparison of meanings. Use the word comparison feature to learn the differences between similar and commonly confused words.
Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Origin of claustrophobia

First recorded in 1875–80; from Latin claustr(um) “bolt” + -o- + -phobia;see claustrum
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does claustrophobia mean?

Claustrophobia is the fear of being in (and not being able to get out of) small or confined spaces, such as tunnels, elevators, and crowded rooms.

Claustrophobia is recognized as a psychological disorder and is often considered a kind of anxiety disorder. Those who are diagnosed with it often experience extreme anxiety when in confined spaces or when facing the possibility of being in one, which can result in a panic attack. But the word claustrophobia is also commonly used in a more general way to refer to the anxious discomfort that many people feel when they’re in an enclosed space. (In this way, many people’s feelings of claustrophobia don’t constitute a disorder.)

Phobias are fears associated with specific objects or activities. These abnormal (unusual) fears are typically considered irrational (not based on reason) because the object of the fear isn’t usually harmful. Often, these fears are formed around a traumatic event.

A person who has claustrophobia can be described as claustrophobic. This adjective can also be used to describe confined spaces that may make people feel this way.

People with claustrophobia were once commonly referred to with the term claustrophobe, and some may still identify in this way, but this and many other similar labels based on medical conditions are often considered dehumanizing. It is now typically preferred to avoid the use of the word claustrophobe and focus on the person first instead of their condition, as in Kevin has claustrophobia (not Kevin is a claustrophobe) and People with claustrophobia (not Claustrophobes) usually avoid driving in tunnels.

Example: My claustrophobia prevents me from doing some things that other people take for granted, like taking the elevator.

Where does claustrophobia come from?

The first records of the word claustrophobia come from the late 1800s. It comes from the Latin claustr(um), meaning “barrier,” and -phobia, from a Greek word meaning “fear.” It follows the same pattern as many words for specific phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders).

Claustrophobia is one of the most common phobias. However, not everyone who has feelings of claustrophobia experiences them in a way that rises to the level of an anxiety disorder. Those who do may experience feelings of anxiety, hyperventilation, tightness in the chest, trembling, and panic attacks, among other symptoms. Treatment of claustrophobia can involve psychotherapy and medication.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to claustrophobia?

What are some words that share a root or word element with claustrophobia



What are some words that often get used in discussing claustrophobia?

How is claustrophobia used in real life?

Claustrophobia is the name for a kind of anxiety disorder, but it’s also commonly used in a general way to refer to any discomfort in tight spaces.



How to use claustrophobia in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for claustrophobia

/ (ˌklɔːstrəˈfəʊbɪə, ˌklɒs-) /

an abnormal fear of being closed in or of being in a confined space

Derived forms of claustrophobia

claustrophobe, noun

Word Origin for claustrophobia

C19: from claustro-, from Latin claustrum cloister + -phobia
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for claustrophobia

[ (klaw-struh-foh-bee-uh) ]

An abnormal fear of being shut in or enclosed.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.