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Medical Phobias and Airport Security Checks

Could Enhanced Airport Security Checks Trigger Medical Phobias?


Updated February 03, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Since the failed Christmas Day bombing of 2009, enhanced airport security checks have become the norm. For those with hypochondriasis or nosophobia, walking through a full body scanner could be terrifying.

Hypochondriasis or Nosophobia

Hypchondriasis is not technically a phobia, but the condition greatly resembles one. If you suffer from hypochondriasis, you might constantly worry that a collection of non-specific physical symptoms may indicate an undiagnosed disease.

Nosophobia is the fear of developing a specific disease, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis. You may spend a great deal of time reading symptom lists and checking your body to see if you have any of the signs of your chosen disease.

Some people who suffer from medical phobias make frequent visits to the doctor's office. Only a doctor can tell them "for sure" that whatever they're feeling is minor and not a symptom of a dreaded disease.

However, many people with hypochondriasis or nosophobia take the opposite approach. They are convinced that doctors deliver only bad news, and may put off even routine medical care. Medical testing may be difficult or impossible for those who are certain that the results will confirm their worst fears.

Airport Security

If one of the above issues are a concern for you, it may not be surprising to have anxiety about security individuals and scanners. Full body scanners reveal everything that is beneath a traveler's clothes. That, paired with the fact that they look like high-tech pieces of medical equipment, may play into your concerns about uncovering a medical issue. And though security personnel are not doctors, anxiety may arise from knowing that someone is seeing a scan of you that you don't.

Coping With Medical Phobias and Airport Security

Regardless of the reason for your anxiety during an airport security check, these tips may help make the task easier on you:
  • Whenever possible, travel with a supportive friend or relative. He or she can handle the details of the trip, help you work through your coping techniques, and provide emotional support.
  • Arrive early at the airport. Allow yourself plenty of time to get through security without worrying that you will miss your plane. Plan a reward for yourself when you reach the sterile area.
  • Practice deep breathing while going through the security line. Stay calm and focus not on the upcoming security check, but on the wonderful trip that will follow.
  • If you are faced with having to have a full body scan and the thought worries you, consider requesting a pat-down. All travelers have the right to request this alternative option. Although pat-downs can feel invasive, they allow travelers to avoid the machine altogether, which may be helpful to you.
If you've been diagnosed with an actual phobia, remember that the best way to cope with any phobia is to seek treatment for it. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), when used in conjunction with talk therapy, can greatly reduce the symptoms of medical phobias.


ACLU: Responding to Obama on Body Scanners. Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/responding-obama-body-scanners

American Psychiatric Association. (1994).Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Transportation Security Administration: For Travelers. Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.tsa.gov/

TSA: Imaging Technology. Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.tsa.gov/approach/tech/imaging_technology.shtm

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