There’s an ICD-10 code for that (somewhat) irrational childhood fear

If you’ve worked in or around the medical problem list, you know there’s a code for every calamity – even the ones that haunted your childhood dreams.
ICD10 Codes Childhood

The media landscape was very different for those of us raised in the 70s and 80s. Fewer shows and magazines. Far fewer screens. Yet somehow, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of things to fear. From quicksand to tarantulas to alligators in the sewers, there was a steady and unsettling stream of threats that rarely (if ever) materialized. We’ve compiled a short list – and their ICD-10 code counterparts – for anyone nostalgic for those decades of dread.


T71.21XA: Asphyxiation due to cave-in or falling earth, initial encounter

X39.8XXA: Other exposure to forces of nature, initial encounter

In the 80s, television and movie characters often faced the threat of death by sinking into quicksand. It turns out that it’s virtually impossible to actually die this way…but it can’t hurt to keep an eye out for low-hanging vines. 

Struck by lightning

T75.00XA: Unspecified effects of lightning, initial encounter

According to the National Weather Service, the odds of getting struck by lightning are about 1 in 1,222,000, but the threat seemed far more imminent growing up.

Surprise-yet-slow-moving tarantulas attacks

T63.321A: Toxic effect of venom of tarantula, accidental (unintentional), initial encounter

Blame it on shlocky TV and grocery line tabloids, but the fear of random tarantula encounters was real. This UK grandmother – appropriately named Gillian Shivers – found one in a bag of grapes just a couple of years back.

Rabid dog attacks

W54.0XXA: Bitten by a dog

Z20.3: Contact with and (suspected) exposure to rabies

All roads lead to the 1983 release of Cujo for this one. The television ads – featuring a rabid and rampaging St. Bernard – were enough to make every neighborhood dog suspicious.

Cross your eyes and they’ll stay that way

H50.9: Unspecified strabismus

“Don’t cross your eyes or they’ll stay that way!” We all remember the warning, but did it ever actually happen? (And was anyone willing to tempt fate by trying?)

Acid rain

Z77.110A: Contact with and (suspected) exposure to air pollution

Unchecked air pollution from refineries, power plants, vehicles – you name it – transformed the childhood joys of splashing in puddles and getting soaked in a downpour into fears of burning skin and melted rubber boots.

Killer bees

T63.441A: Toxic effect of venom of bees, accidental (unintentional), initial encounter

The threat of an anaphylactic reaction to a regular bee sting is far more grave and realistic than being attacked by a swarm of killer bees. But any self-respecting child of the 80s would beg to differ.

Spontaneous human combustion

T21.09XA: Burn of unspecified degree of other site of trunk, initial encounter

Shows like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! and That’s Incredible! made it seem like spontaneous combustion was happening all the time. And who were we to doubt them and those emphatic exclamation marks!

Shark attacks

W56.41XA: Bitten by shark, initial encounter

Jaws may have kickstarted childhood fears of shark attacks, but a steady stream of films from Sharknado to The Meg have fueled them for decades. (This was admittedly a tough fear to justify for those of us who grew up by the Great Lakes).

Sewer gators

W58.01XA: Bitten by alligator, initial encounter

The urban myth about overgrown alligators in the sewers goes back decades, but the movie Alligator, released in 1980, brought the legend to life on the big screen and in the overactive imaginations of children across the nation.

More interested in coding than in childhood fears? We get it. Check out Cracking the codes: A guide to healthcare’s standardized coding systems.

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