Ravenel Bridge aerial

The Ravenel Bridge is a lowcountry landmark offering alluring views, but the recent closure of the James B. Edwards Bridge and resulting traffic issues may exacerbate some people's fear of bridges. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Tens of thousands of commuters make their way over Charleston's bridges every day without giving the journey a second thought. 

But for a much smaller group, that drive can be panic-inducing, characterized by irrational fear, shallow breathing and a sense of doom. 

That's because some people suffer from gephyrophobia — a scientific term for "a fear of bridges." No doubt the discovery of a snapped cable underneath the Wando River Bridge this week may exacerbate some of this anxiety. 

Allison Wilkerson, a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety and sleep disorders at the Medical University of South Carolina, explained some people struggle with existing anxiety and traveling over a bridge tends to make it worse. Others are scared of bridges because they fear water and heights. 

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Cooper River Bridge Run (copy)

Thousands made their way across the Ravenel Bridge during the Cooper River Bridge Run in 2016. Some people suffer from gephyrophobia, a phobia of bridges. File/Staff 

"Everybody is a little bit different," Wilkerson said. "It’s generally not very prevalent, but here in a town where we have a lot bridges, you’re going to find it a lot more."

Data published by the National Institutes of Health estimates more than 9 percent of U.S. adults suffered from some specific phobia last year.

These phobias are characterized by an "intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger" and run the gamut from fairly common anxieties, such as ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) and acrophobia (fear of heights), to much more obscure fears, including xanthophobia (fear of all things yellow) and trypophobia (fear of things with small holes). 

Nearly half of people who suffer from phobias only experience mild symptoms, which may include dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat and, in some cases, fainting. 

Treatment methods vary. Wilkerson said people should seek professional treatment if their phobia affects their daily functioning.

She recommended gradual exposure therapy to mitigate symptoms. Deep breathing also "tricks your body and your brain into being calm again," she said. 

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.