What Is Trypophobia?
Trypophobia is a fear or disgust of closely-packed holes. People who have it feel queasy when looking at surfaces that have small holes gathered close together.
Viral images of lotus seed pods, pregnant Surinam toads and woodpeckers storing fruit in trees have triggered reactions from trypophobes online, and raised awareness of the condition.
Thought trypophobia is not officially recognized. Studies on trypophobia are limited, and the research that is available is split on whether or not it should be considered an official condition.
The American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,” (DSM-5) doesn’t recognize trypophobia as an official phobia. More research is needed to understand the full scope of trypophobia and the causes of the condition.
Major Causes Of Trypophobia
Most trypophobic people show disgust as their main symptom, which is uncommon in recognized phobias, where fear is more prevalent, according to a 2018 review in Frontiers of Psychiatry.
Phobias develop when people have an exaggerated sense of fear about a situation, place, feeling or object; this overwhelming reaction may stem from their own traumatic experiences or from responses they’ve picked up from observing others. The chances of developing a phobia depends on a person’s genetic history.
Symptoms Of Trypophobia
Symptoms are reportedly triggered when a person sees an object with small clusters of holes or shapes that resemble holes.
When seeing a cluster of holes, people with trypophobia react with disgust or fear. Some of the symptoms include:
- feeling repulsed
- feeling uncomfortable
- visual discomfort such as eyestrain, distortions, or illusions
- feeling your skin crawl
- panic attacks
- body shakes.
What Triggers Trypophobia
Not much is known about trypophobia. But common triggers include things like:
- lotus seed pods
- aluminum metal foam
- a cluster of eyes.
Animals, including, insects, amphibians, mammals, and other creatures that have spotted skin or fur, can also trigger symptoms of trypophobia. Other evidence suggests that trypophobia triggers simply provoke visual discomfort, and that some people are particularly sensitive to their effects, such as eyestrain and perceptual distortions.
What Science Says About Trypophobia
Trypophobia first entered scientific literature in 2013, when researchers proposed that the condition stems from an innate aversion to dangerous animals. The scientists lit upon the idea when one of their study participants mentioned their fear of the blue-ringed octopus, a highly poisonous animal with bruise-colored spots.
Some scientists theorize that trypophobia is not a over generalized fear of animals, but of human disease. Many infectious diseases and parasites leave the skin riddled with spots and sores — think of smallpox, scarlet fever or botfly bites. A 2017 study suggested that this overlap may explain the nausea and “skin crawling” sensations conjured by the condition.
A study published in April 2017 disputes these findings. Researchers surveyed preschoolers to confirm whether the fear upon seeing an image with small holes is based on a fear of dangerous animals or a response to visual traits. Their results suggest that people who experience trypophobia don’t have a nonconscious fear of venomous creatures. Instead, the fear is triggered by the creature’s appearance.
Risk Factors to Trypophobia
Not much is known about the risk factors linked to trypophobia. One study Trusted Source from 2017 found a possible link between trypophobia and major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). According to the researchers, people with trypophobia were more likely to also experience major depressive disorder or GAD. Another study published in 2016 also noted a link between social anxiety and trypophobia.
How Is Trypophobia Cure
Trypophobia can cause disturbance in people’s lives. “As for any fear or aversion, if your symptoms are persistent and distressing or impairing, I would recommend consulting with a mental-health professional with expertise in exposure treatment.”
There are also different ways a phobia can be treated. The most effective form of treatment is exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing your response to the object or situation causing your fear.
Another common treatment for a phobia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT combines exposure therapy with other techniques to help you manage your anxiety and keep your thoughts from becoming overwhelming.
Other treatment options that can help you manage your phobia include:
- general talk therapy with a counselor or psychiatrist
- medications such as beta-blockers and sedatives to help reduce anxiety and panic symptoms
- relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and yoga
- physical activity and exercise to manage anxiety
- mindful breathing, observation, listening, and other mindful strategies to help cope with stress
While medications have been tested with other types of anxiety disorders, little is known about their efficacy in trypophobia.
- See if your skin crawls at the sight of Suriname sea toads giving birth, from National Geographic.
- Learn more about anxiety disorders and phobias in this video from Crash Course.
- Read more about what defines a phobia according to Harvard Medical School.