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Trypophobia Fear Symptoms Causes Treatment Preventions & More All you need to know

December 30, 2021

The word “Trypophobia” is made of two Greek words “trypo” meaning “holes” and “Phobos” meaning “fear”.  So, the word Trypophobia means fear of holes. Persons having this condition feel discomfort, disgust, or fear when they see a cluster of small holes.

Trypophobia Symptoms Causes Treatment Preventions

This condition, however, is not limited to a cluster of holes. A pattern of bumps or even straight lines that appears to be closely packed, cluster images, striped pictures, repetitive patterns; all can trigger such condition.

Although Trypophobia is common and popular among people, it is not recognized by the American psychiatric association in its Diagnostic and statistical manual of psychiatric disorders.

One reason for this is that there hasn’t been much research on this condition. And what we do know about this condition suggests that it is more a feeling of disgust rather than the feeling of fear.

We are living in the era of science and technology. Recent advancements have enabled the making of robots and artificial intelligence that can work and think like humans.

However, these machines still lack something that we humans possess. I am talking about feelings and emotions.

We feel happy, sad, angry, disappointed, etc. But the machines do not feel any kind of emotions. There are specific parts of our brain that controls emotions.

Problems arising in these areas can cause a change in emotions. It can cause either loss of emotions or extreme exaggeration of these emotions leading to phobias and fear.

What are the triggers?

A lot of objects we encounter in our daily life can trigger Trypophobia. Some of them are given in the following:

  1. Honeycomb
  2. Beehives
  3. Pomegranate
  4. Strawberries
  5. Coral
  6. Sponges
  7. Sea sponges
  8. Soap bubbles
  9. Water condensation
  10. Bubbles
  11. Seed pods
  12. Showerheads
  13. The pattern of the frosting of a pie or cake
  14. Holes in a hockey mask
  15. Air holes in the slice of a bread
  16. LEDs in traffic lights
  17. Spotted animals
  18. Head of a lotus flower
  19. Holes or pebbles in concrete
  20. Skin problems like sores, scars and spots
  21. Aluminum metal foam
  22. Cantaloupe
  23. A cluster of eyes (like those of insects)
  24. Fruit seeds
  25. Holes in diseased or decaying flesh
  26. Hair follicles
  27. Skin pores

These are only a few examples. Anything having a cluster of holes, repetitive patterns, or shapes closely packed together can trigger a person’s Trypophobia.

What are the symptoms?

Now that you know what triggers Trypophobia, let’s talk about what happens to a person experiencing Trypophobia. Upon seeing the trigger, a trypophobic person can have the following symptoms:

  1. Nausea
  2. Shaking
  3. Goosebumps
  4. Vomiting
  5. Sweating
  6. Itching
  7. Emotional distress
  8. Body shakes
  9. Emotional distress
  10. Fear and anxiety
  11. Feelings of revulsion
  12. Feeling your skin crawl
  13. Feeling uncomfortable
  14. Rapid breathing
  15. Headaches
  16. Increase heartbeat
  17. Panic Attacks

What are the causes?

Although there has not been much research on Trypophobia, there are the following theories that explain why people act in such a way:

  1. Evolutionary response: What we are today is the result of thousands of years of evolution. It has not only affected our body but our mind as well. Our brain is designed to identify danger and respond accordingly. A cluster of holes resembles the blisters of smallpox and measles and our mind’s response is the feeling of disgust. However, in some people, this response can get exaggerated and present as Trypophobia.
  2. Association with dangerous animals: Some studies have shown that the feeling of fear and disgust upon seeing clusters of holes is because these clusters resemble the patterns on the skin of dangerous animals like snakes and crocodiles. For example, if a picture of a honeycomb is shown to a normal person, he or she would identify it as a honeycomb. On the other hand, a trypophobic person would see it as the patterns on the skin of a rattlesnake.
  3. Visual disturbance: Some research shows that the uncomfortable feelings on seeing clusters of holes are not due to its association with something but the cluster or pattern itself. These patterns have high contrast energy at midrange spatial frequencies. Such visual characteristics are uncomfortable even for the normal population. The response is however exaggerated in trypophobic people.
  4. Psychological disorders: A link between Trypophobia and psychological disorders has been found in some patients. Trypophobia can be due to major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, past trauma etc.

What are the complications?

Although Trypophobia is very unlikely to kill you, it still has serious complications. These complications are as following:

  1. Impaired daily life: A lot of things we use in our daily life can trigger Trypophobia and the symptoms of Trypophobia are quite persistent, therefore the daily functioning of a trypophobic is heavily impaired. He/she cannot use many of the daily life tools, cannot go to places because it can trigger Trypophobia and much more.
  2. Depression: With impairment of daily life and persistent feeling of fear comes depression. Continuous exposure to triggers and absence of support from friends and family can cause severe depression in trypophobics.
  3. Anxiety disorders: Research shows that trypophobics are more likely to suffer from anxiety than other people.
  4. Mood disorders: Trypophobia involves extreme emotional response to the trigger. Trypophobics in this way can also develop mood disorders where they show extreme happiness or sadness or both in response to daily life proceedings.
  5. Substance abuse: Stress, depression and anxiety are the key factors that lead a person to fall into substance abuse. Trypophobics also start substance abuse like cocaine (which acts as an antidepressant) and morphine (a narcotic) to deal with anxiety and fear.
  6. Social isolation: During an attack of Trypophobia, people have no control over their behavior and are stigmatized over there their mental condition by society. People laugh at them, pass offensive comments and treat them bad. Thus, trypophobics mostly remain in their house, afraid to go out and rarely talk to someone.
  7. Suicide: When depression, social isolation and hopelessness overcomes a person’s will to live, he or she only sees one option left and that is suicide.

What are the risk factors?

There are the following risk factors for Trypophobia:

  • Major depressive disorder: Studies have shown that people with a major depressive disorder are more likely to develop Trypophobia.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: Some studies say that you have more chances of developing Trypophobia if you have a generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Social anxiety: Some people have social anxiety. They fear people seeing them and judging them. These persons may see trypophobic patterns as multiple eyes preying on them and cause them to have fear and anxiety.
  • Genetics: It is also possible that you inherit Trypophobia. You have more chances of developing Trypophobia if someone in your family has it too. Normally, this condition remains dormant and only presents itself when someone brought it up or triggers it.
  • Environment: you can become trypophobic if someone in your family has this condition and you repeatedly saw them fearing different household objects that trigger Trypophobia.

When to see a doctor?

Visit a psychiatric if:

  1. Your fear is significantly affecting your daily life
  2. The phobia is present for at least half a year
  3. The fear causes you to have severe anxiety and panic attacks
  4. The phobia causes you to avoid certain places and situations

How to diagnose Trypophobia, Fear of holes?

Diagnosing Trypophobia is a complicated thing. First, there has not been much research on this topic and second, it is not recognized as a true phobia.

However, some methods can be used for this purpose.

  • Patients’ history: Your doctor will take your medical as well as social and psychiatric history. He/she will ask you about your symptoms, how did they start and what are their effects on your daily life. The psychiatric evaluation is important to know if you have any kind of depressive or anxiety disorder as they are the risk factors for Trypophobia.

You will be asked questions regarding the triggers of Trypophobia. Do you feel uncomfortable seeing honeycomb? Does the sight of cantaloupe seeds disgust you? Do you avoid clothes with leopard skin patterns?

  • Self-evaluation: If you are not comfortable going to a doctor, you can also evaluate yourself to see if you have Trypophobia or not. There are many trypophobic tests available online that can help you check whether you are trypophobic or not.
  • Trypophobia questionnaire: A questionnaire developed by researchers, is useful to diagnose Trypophobia. It has 17 questions and asks you to rate your symptoms on a scale of 1 to 5.

What is the treatment of Trypophobia, Fear of holes?

Following methods can be used to cope with and treat Trypophobia:

  • Exposure therapy: A mainstay treatment therapy for any kind of phobia. It is like immunization where you are exposed to the pathogen and then become immune to it. Exposure therapy works on the same principle, exposing the patients to their fear until they have no fear left.

In the first step, the patient is asked to close his eyes and imagine a honeycomb or any cluster of holes. He/she will feel fear or disgust. This is repeated until he/she can withstand this visualization without any discomfort. The next step involves seeing pictures of a cluster of holes and them seeing the actual object like cantaloupe seeds or a coral.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy: It is a combination of exposure therapy with some other techniques to change your thought process and help you get rid of your fears.
  • Emotional freedom technique: If exposure therapy and cognitive behavior therapy is not working, emotional freedom therapy can opt. It involves visualizing your fear then tapping different points on your body and repeating positive thoughts.

It helps you relax, reduce the stress, withstand your fear and accepts yourself.

  • Medications: Although cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy are preferred, you can also use medications to relieve stress and fear. These medications include beta-blockers (propranolol), antidepressants, benzodiazepines (diazepam), tricyclic antidepressants etc.

Prevention of Trypophobia, Fear of holes?

You can follow the following instructions to prevent yourself from Trypophobia:

  1. Avoid caffeine as it can increase your stress and anxiety
  2. Have 7-8 hours of quality sleep
  3. Quit smoking and alcohol. These things are good for nothing
  4. Choose a healthy and balanced diet
  5. Workout daily as it will help you feel good

What are the home remedies of Trypophobia, Fear of holes?

You can use the following methods to reduce your anxiety and face your fears by yourself:

  1. Relaxation techniques: There are numerous relaxation techniques like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques etc. I will explain a breathing technique here called box breathing. In this, you exhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds. Then you inhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds. This is repeated for 4-5 minutes. You can also check other relaxation techniques.
  2. Yoga: Yoga is a well-known method to reduce stress and anxiety of any kind. You can use it not only for Trypophobia but for any other situation which makes you feel anxious.
  3. Physical exercise: Physical exercise is good to stay healthy and active. Exercise is good for almost every pathological disease. But how can it help in a psychological disease? Workout causes the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical substance that produces the feeling of pleasure, makes you feel good and reduce stress.
  4. Communication with others: There are many groups and pages on Facebook and other social media platforms for trypophobics. By joining these groups, you will find out that you are not alone. There are others like you suffering from this condition. You can also ask them to share their experience and how they have managed this condition.
Abdur Rashid
Medically Reviewed By Abdur Rashid
MSC Public Health, MCSP, MHCPC
BSC (Hon) Physiotherapy
Consultant Neuro-spinal & Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist

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