What are the symptoms and treatment options for hydrophobia?

Symptom Database

Hydrophobia, also known as the fear of water, is a condition that is often associated with rabies. While hydrophobia can refer to a fear of water in general, in the context of this article, we will focus on hydrophobia as a symptom of rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals. Hydrophobia is one of the most well-known symptoms of rabies and is characterized by a fear or difficulty in swallowing liquids, particularly water.

Symptoms of Hydrophobia

Hydrophobia is a late-stage symptom of rabies and typically appears after other initial symptoms such as fever, headache, and fatigue. The fear of water is often accompanied by other neurological symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Spasms in the throat and diaphragm
  • Increased saliva production
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Confusion and hallucinations
  • Paralysis

These symptoms can be extremely distressing for the individual experiencing them and can lead to severe anxiety and panic.

Treatment Options for Hydrophobia

Unfortunately, there is no cure for hydrophobia itself, as it is a symptom of the underlying rabies infection. Once symptoms of hydrophobia appear, the disease has typically progressed to a point where treatment options are limited. However, immediate medical attention is still crucial to manage the symptoms and prevent further complications.

Supportive Care

Supportive care is the primary approach to managing hydrophobia in individuals with rabies. This involves providing comfort measures and alleviating symptoms to the best extent possible. Some supportive care measures include:

  • Providing a calm and quiet environment
  • Administering sedatives or anti-anxiety medications to reduce agitation
  • Using intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Assisting with feeding and swallowing, if possible

Supportive care aims to improve the quality of life for the individual and make them as comfortable as possible during this challenging time.

Prevention and Vaccination

Prevention is the most effective way to avoid hydrophobia and the complications associated with rabies. Vaccination against rabies is crucial, especially for individuals at high risk of exposure, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, and individuals traveling to regions where rabies is prevalent.

If a person has been bitten by an animal suspected of having rabies, immediate medical attention is necessary. The wound should be thoroughly cleaned, and a series of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) vaccinations should be administered. PEP consists of a combination of rabies vaccine and rabies immunoglobulin to prevent the virus from spreading and causing symptoms.

Precautions and Safety Measures

While hydrophobia is a symptom of rabies, it is important to note that not all individuals with rabies will experience this specific fear of water. However, it is crucial to take precautions and practice safety measures to prevent exposure to rabies. Some important precautions include:

  • Avoiding contact with wild animals, especially bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes
  • Ensuring pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations
  • Seeking immediate medical attention for any animal bites or scratches
  • Following proper wound care protocols for animal-related injuries

By taking these precautions, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of contracting rabies and experiencing symptoms such as hydrophobia.


Hydrophobia, or the fear of water, is a well-known symptom of rabies. It is a late-stage symptom that often appears after other initial symptoms of the disease. While there is no cure for hydrophobia itself, immediate medical attention and supportive care can help manage the symptoms and improve the individual’s quality of life. Prevention through vaccination and taking precautions to avoid exposure to rabies is crucial in preventing hydrophobia and the complications associated with rabies. By understanding the symptoms and treatment options for hydrophobia, individuals can take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from this potentially fatal disease.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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