Common phobias in children of spiders, dogs or flying could be overcome with the help of an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis, researchers say.
Macquarie University researchers administered the drug D-cycloserine to 35 children aged between 6 and 14.
The drug, which has an ingredient that is known to reinforce learning, was administered in conjunction with exposure therapy — where people face their fears gradually.
After a week scientists said the children, who all had phobias of spiders and dogs, were better able to cope with their fears.
About one in 10 people have some kind of phobia
The results will be published in the journal Depression and Anxiety. Researcher Simon Byrne said the medication had been used before in teens and adults, but his study was the first to involve children.
“The vast majority of the children in our study had improved and the good majority would be diagnosed as free at the end of the study,” he said.
He said the study could have ramifications for people with other common fears, such as heights, small spaces and flying.
Macquarie University Centre for Emotional Health director Professor Ron Rapee said phobias were a type of anxiety problem.
“Phobias, like a lot of different anxiety-type problems, can really affect people’s lives quite broadly and dramatically,” he said.
“Other times there are a lot of people … who have phobias that we live with on a daily basis and they may not affect our lives quite as much.”
He said the use of medications to reinforce psychology was an emerging field.
“This study is exciting because it shows for the first time that we can combine a physical treatment, which is a very simple and widely used medication, with a psychological treatment in such a way that they enhance each other,” he said.
“That hasn’t been shown before.”
Teen lives free of phobia
Shanaya Perera, 15, had a paralysing fear of spiders before undergoing the therapy five years ago.
“I remember I used to help my mum in the garden and I’d be all right, but then I’d come across a spider,” she said.
“Then I’d be really tense and looking around for spiders everywhere.
“Now if I see a spider I’m fine with them — they don’t bother me, it’s all good.”