Trypophobia is a condition where a person experiences a fear or aversion to clusters of small holes.
The condition is thought to be triggered when a person sees a pattern of small clustered holes, bringing about symptoms, such as fear, disgust, and anxiety.
Although trypophobia is not currently recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the term trypophobia has been in use since 2009.
Fast facts on trypophobia:
- There is limited current research on the condition, yet some theories do exist.
- Some researchers question the validity of trypophobia as a condition or phobia, as suggested by a recent study.
- Since some potentially dangerous animals have similar ‘holey’ patterns on their bodies, people may make an unconscious association between these patterns and the animals.
People who experience symptoms of trypophobia are often triggered by specific images of clusters of small, irregular holes, such as:
- soap bubbles
- sea sponges
- water condensation
- seed pods
- clusters of eyes as found in insects
People with trypophobia may experience symptoms, such as:
- feelings of disgust, fear, or discomfort
- skin itching
- skin crawling
- panic attacks
A 2013 study examined images that induce trypophobia and found that when people who do not have the condition see a picture of a honeycomb, for example, they may think of honey or bees.
However, the study theorized that people with trypophobia develop symptoms because they subconsciously associate the honeycomb with a dangerous animal — in this case, a rattlesnake — whose pattern is similar.
Trypophobia and generalized anxiety
A study completed in 2017 concluded that of the 95 subjects surveyed, the symptoms of trypophobia were long-term and persistent. Their research also showed that many of those surveyed had depression and generalized anxiety.
The study also showed that when people with trypophobia encountered clusters of holes, they experienced feelings of disgust and not fear.
Why does it happen?
Another 2017 study suggests that trypophobia is an evolutionary response to alert a person to the presence of parasites or other infectious diseases.
The researchers explain that based on their findings, those affected by trypophobia may have the perception that these cluster images are cues of ectoparasites (parasites, such as fleas, that live outside of the host) and skin-transmitted pathogens (droplets spread by coughs or sneezes).
A Chinese study evaluated whether symptoms of trypophobia in preschool children and their discomfort was based on the features of the visual stimuli specifically, or as a subconscious fear of venomous animals.
While researchers note that children did experience discomfort when presented with some trypophobic stimuli, they theorize that their discomfort was not related to subconscious association with venomous animals but was, in fact, due to the characteristics of the cluster pattern itself.
While there is no treatment specific to trypophobia, there are some treatments available for phobias in general with varied success rates. Treatments may consist of self-help treatments, therapy, and medications.
Self-help treatments and home remedies
People can undertake self-help treatments by themselves or with the help of a therapist or counselor.
These strategies may or may not be effective in treating individual phobias and have varied rates of success. Some self-help strategies include the following:
- Lifestyle modifications: These include exercise, eating healthful foods, good sleep hygiene, and the avoidance of caffeine and other stimulants.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a talking therapy, which is done with a therapist or counselor to explore how thoughts cause feelings and behaviors. Therapists work with clients, encouraging them to set and achieve goals.
- Self-help group: Many people find group therapy very helpful.
- Exposure therapy (desensitization): This is a treatment method in which a therapist exposes a person to their phobia in small doses.
- Relaxation techniques: This may include exercise-based techniques and visualization methods.
At times, doctors will prescribe certain medications to treat phobias or the side effects of phobias, such as anxiety. Medications include:
A person with trypophobia experiences symptoms, such as fear, disgust, anxiety, goosebumps, and panic, on seeing clusters of small holes.
Trypophobia is not currently recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), and there is conflicting research as to whether the condition is, in fact, a genuine phobia.
More research is needed in this area to validate the condition.