Trypophobia is an irrational, disruptive aversion or fear of clusters of small holes, bumps, or patterns. When people with this phobia see such objects, they can experience severe fear, nausea, itching, sweating, shaking, and even panic attacks.
There is some debate among researchers as to whether trypophobia is a genuine condition. Early reports of trypophobia were first described in an online forum in 2005, but it has not been recognized as a distinct diagnosis in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association.
While not listed in the DSM-5, trypophobia would fall under the broad classification of specific phobias as long as the symptoms are persistent, excessive, and lead to significant impairment or distress.
What Is Trypophobia?
Trypophobia is often described as “the fear of holes,” but it is important to note that it may also apply to bumps or other patterns that are closely clustered together. When people see trigger objects, they experience symptoms such as severe fear, nausea, itching, sweating, shaking, and even panic attacks.
Fear is one common symptom, but disgust is often described as the overwhelming emotion that people feel with this phobia. Trypophobia also tends to be highly visual. Seeing images online or in print is enough to trigger feelings of revulsion or anxiety.
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This video has been medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD.
One case report illustrates how trypophobia often presents. The patient, a 12-year-old girl, experienced feelings of discomfort when she encountered surfaces and objects covered with holes or dots. When asked to draw a picture of her fear, she filled a paper with a repetitive pattern of clustered, round dots.
How Common Is Trypophobia?
While prevalence is unknown, some research indicates that trypophobia may be quite common. One 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science found 16% of participants experienced feelings of disgust or discomfort when looking at an image of a lotus seed pod.
Common Triggers of Trypophobia
Research on trypophobia is still relatively rare, but some of the trigger objects that have been observed include:
- Bubble wrap
- Fruit seeds
- Holes in diseased or decaying flesh
- Holes or bumps on flesh
- Insect eyes
- Lotus seed pods
Man-made patterns, as well as animals that have spotted or patterned coats, can also cause a phobic reaction.
Symptoms of Trypophobia
The symptoms of this condition are similar to those of other specific phobias. After seeing clusters of small holes or bumps, whether in person or in an image, people often experience:
- Emotional distress
- Fear and anxiety
- Feelings of revulsion
- Panic attacks
- Rapid breathing
Symptoms are persistent, leading to functional impairments in daily living.
Trypophobia can lead to symptoms related to fear, disgust, or both, although research suggests that people report feeling greater disgust rather than fear.
In addition to experiencing symptoms such as fear and disgust, people with trypophobia will often experience behavioral changes as well. Avoidance of trigger objects is common. For example, a person might avoid eating certain foods (such as strawberries or aerated chocolate) or avoid going to certain places (such as a room with dotted wallpaper).
Causes of Trypophobia
Research on trypophobia is still quite limited, but there are some theories about why it happens.
According to one of the most popular theories, trypophobia is an evolutionary response to things that are associated with disease or danger. Diseased skin, parasites, and other infectious conditions, for example, may be characterized by such holes or bumps.
This theory suggests that this phobia has an evolutionary basis. It is also consistent with the tendency for those with trypophobia to experience greater disgust than fear when they see a trigger object.
Associations With Dangerous Animals
Another theory suggests that clustered holes share a similar appearance to skin and coat patterns on some venomous animals. People may fear these patterns out of unconscious associations.
There is some research that supports this idea. A 2013 study looked at how people with trypophobia respond to certain stimuli in comparison to those without the condition. When viewing a honeycomb (a common trypophobic object), people who don't have trypophobia immediately think of things such as honey or bees.
The researchers believe that those with trypophobia non-consciously associated the sight of a honeycomb with dangerous organisms that share the same basic visual characteristics, such as rattlesnakes. While they are not consciously aware of this association, it may be what causes them to feel feelings of disgust or fear.
Associations With Infectious Pathogens
A 2017 study found that participants tended to associate hole patterns with skin-transmitted pathogens. Study participants reported feelings of skin-itching and skin-crawling when viewing such patterns.
Disgust or fear of potential threats is an adaptive evolutionary response. In many cases, these feelings help keep us safe from danger. In the case of trypophobia, researchers believe it may be an overgeneralized and exaggerated form of this normally adaptive response,
A Response to Visual Characteristics
Some research suggests that the discomfort people feel has more to do with the visual characteristics of the patterns themselves.
One study published in Psychological Reports found that while people experience discomfort when viewing trypophobic patterns, these feelings were more related to the visual patterns themselves than to associations with dangerous animals. Such results call into question whether or not trypophobia is actually a phobia at all, or simply a natural response to certain types of visual stimuli.
Risk Factors for Trypophobia
Symptoms of trypophobia typically meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for specific phobias rather than other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, researchers have found that people with trypophobia were more likely to experience other conditions, too. These include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Bipolar disorder
It's more common in women and in people with close relatives who also have trypophobia.
Treatments for Trypophobia
No specific treatment has been demonstrated particularly effective in the treatment of this condition. However, many of the treatments used for specific phobias and mood disorders are also likely to be helpful in reducing symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves working with a therapist to change the underlying thoughts and behaviors that might contribute to trypophobia. This might involve discussing unrealistic thoughts, replacing these with more realistic ones, and then making changes in behaviors. CBT might also involve gradual exposure to feared things or situations to decrease one's reactions to them.
One of the reasons people experience phobia symptoms is because they often believe there is something inherently dangerous or threatening about the fear object. This leads to negative automatic thoughts as soon as they encounter the source of their fear.
Exposure therapy, a type of CBT, involves progressively exposing a person to their fear object with the hope that fear symptoms will lessen over time. This process is usually done very gradually. A person may start by imagining what they fear, then looking at pictures of the fear object, and then finally being near or even touching the source of their anxiety.
In the case of trypophobia, a person with symptoms may start by simply closing his eyes and imagining something such as a honeycomb or seed pod. They will continue working on this activity until symptoms start to recede. Once he is able to imagine the object without a response, he will move onto the next step, which often involves looking at an image of an object that normally triggers symptoms.
Through CBT, people work to replace their often irrational beliefs and negative thoughts with more positive and realistic ones. With exposure therapy, patients may potentially encounter an object without feeling excessive disgust, fear, or anxiety.
Different relaxation strategies can also be useful for reducing feelings of disgust, fear, or anxiety. Visualization, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are a few strategies that might be helpful.
Visualization involves picturing soothing images or situations. A person with trypophobia might try to envision a beautiful sunset or a field of flowers whenever they encounter something covered with tiny holes.
A simple distraction can also be a useful coping technique. If you see something that triggers a trypophobic response, you might simply look away and find something else to think about or look at until your symptoms ease.
Anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs may sometimes be prescribed, particularly if the individual also experiences depression or anxiety. These may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines, or beta-blockers. These medications may be used alone, but they are often used in conjunction with another treatment approach such as CBT or other types of psychotherapy.
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A Word From Verywell
While trypophobia has been discussed rather extensively online, psychologists are still split on whether it represents a genuine phobia. It is not currently recognized by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Further research is needed to determine the nature of the condition, its prevalence, and its treatment. Fortunately, most people who experience this condition can find relief through treatment options ranging from therapy to medication to self-help.
What causes the holes in trypophobia? ›
Symptoms and Causes
One theory is that the brain associates clusters of holes with danger. For example, you may associate a pattern of small holes with the skin of a venomous snake or the eyes of a tarantula. Or the holes may remind you of skin diseases or skin rashes.
Researchers say that hole-like patterns have a type of visual energy that can cause an unpleasant reaction. Other researchers believe that the fear comes from social anxiety. Circles look a little bit like clusters of eyes or faces staring at you, which can be upsetting if you get nervous in social settings.Is trypophobia caused by trauma? ›
What Causes Trypophobia? Phobias don't have a specific cause. Instead, they can result from any number or combination of complex factors, including genetics, prior trauma, learned responses early in life, and long-term anxiety or depression.What causes holes in the skin? ›
Pitted keratolysis is a skin disorder that's caused by bacteria. It creates crater-like pits or small holes on the top layer of your skin and usually affects the soles of your feet, but can also develop on the palms of your hands. It's more common in people who: Often go barefoot and live in tropical areas.Do all humans have trypophobia? ›
You're one of around 16 percent of people who experience something called trypophobia - the irrational fear of holes. But, some scientists are now saying, maybe it's not a phobia after all. That's because, well, it might be rational - and rooted in disgust rather than fear.Who suffers from trypophobia? ›
It is common in individuals suffering from migraine and epilepsy, but it has been mostly studied from the point of view of visual perception rather than the underlying cognitive mechanisms of a phobic phenomenon (9, 10).How do you stop trypophobia? ›
Is there a cure for trypophobia? To the extent that trypophobia is a kind of anxiety, drugs used to treat anxiety may offer help. But there is no cure, and little research has been done to look for one. Exposure therapy — in which patients are gradually exposed to unpleasant images or situations — may be helpful.Is trypophobia a skin disease? ›
Trypophobia is the fear of patterns of clustered holes, bumps, or nodules. Trypophobia has a special relationship with dermatology because of its effects on individuals with skin disease, its relationship with disease avoiding behavior, and its utilization in many online skin disease hoaxes.Is trypophobia a mental illness? ›
Symptoms of trypophobia typically meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for specific phobias rather than other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, researchers have found that people with trypophobia were more likely to experience other conditions, too. 8 These include: Depression.Is trypophobia a form of OCD? ›
Among participants who experienced predominantly fear in relation to their trypophobia, 100.0% fulfilled the DSM-5 criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder, while 66.6% also fulfilled the DSM-5 criteria for specific phobia.
How do you know if you have trypophobia? ›
If you have trypophobia, you'll generally notice feelings of disgust and discomfort when looking at an object or surface with small clusters of holes or shapes that resemble holes.Does skin grow back after a hole in it? ›
It will almost always fill in with skin and improved over time with good hygiene and wound care. There are some things that help to improve or flatten scars, but you should be followed by your surgeon. Silicone sheeting, creams,scar massage etc can all improve upon scars over time in the post operative time period.What causes pimples on thighs? ›
Perspiration (sweating) can cause acne-like spots on the legs. This is because sweat which isn't washed away promptly causes pores to become blocked. Pimples caused by sweating usually appear on the thighs and buttock area.When did trypophobia start? ›
Etymology. The term trypophobia is believed to have been coined by a participant in an online forum in 2005 from the Greek: τρῦπα, trŷpa, meaning "hole" and φόβος, phóbos, meaning "fear".What is the longest phobia name? ›
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is one of the longest words in the dictionary — and, in an ironic twist, is the name for a fear of long words.What is trypophobia face? ›
So-called “trypophobia skin” is not a real skin disease, but trypophobia may be a common reaction to skin diseases that can present with clusters of holes, bumps, or nodules. Skin that has holes, bumps, or nodules and trypophobic patterns is also commonly seen on characters in movies, television shows, and video games.How serious can trypophobia be? ›
A person with trypophobia may experience symptoms such as fear, disgust, anxiety, goosebumps, and panic when seeing clusters of small holes. Some researchers suggest that this may occur due to recognizing the pattern as a danger, whereas others see it as simply experiencing disgust toward the pattern.Is it normal to have holes in your skin? ›
Your body is filled with innumerable pores, sometimes referred to as holes, which release excess oil and sweat. While common, many people do not like too many large pores on their faces.What infection causes a hole in the skin? ›
Most abscesses are caused by a bacterial infection. When bacteria enter your body, your immune system sends infection-fighting white blood cells to the affected area. As the white blood cells attack the bacteria, some nearby tissue dies, creating a hole which then fills with pus to form an abscess.What does Keratolysis look like? ›
White patch of skin or a patch that's lighter than your natural skin tone. Pits or tiny indentations in the patch of skin that look like small holes. Pits can cluster together to form a sore (lesion) that looks like a crater. Itchy sensation on your affected skin.
What is it called when you have holes in your body? ›
An orifice is an opening or a hole, most often in the body, such as your mouth or your nostril.