Trypophobia: Symptoms, Causes, Triggers & Treatment

May 2022

Trypophobia is a psychological disorder characterized by an irrational fear of images or objects with holes or irregular patterns, such as honeycombs, holes on the skin, wood, plants, or sponges. 

People who suffer from this fear feel terrible when confronted with these patterns and may experience symptoms like itchiness, shivers, tingling, and repulsion. In more serious cases, trypophobia can lead to vomiting, increased heart rate, and even panic attacks.

Treatment can include gradual exposure therapy, anxiety medication, antidepressants, or psychotherapy.

Main symptoms 

People with trypophobia may present with the following symptoms when exposed to patterns such as lotus seeds, honeycombs, bubbles, strawberries, or crustaceans:  

  • Nausea;
  • Shivering;
  • Sweating;
  • Crying;
  • Chills;
  • Discomfort;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Itchiness and tingling.

In more serious cases, the person may also have panic attacks due to an extreme level of anxiety.

What causes it

Generally, people who suffer with trypophobia cannot consciously distinguish safe situations from dangerous one. The uncontrollable reactions they experience are often an unconscious reflex.

Trypophobia triggers

According to research, people with trypophobia unconsciously associate holes or objects that have irregular patterns with dangerous situations. Objects that most commonly trigger symptoms are those found in nature. This happens due to the similarity of the holes with the skin of venomous animals, such as snakes or with maggots that can cause skin diseases.

This is an example of an image found in nature that may trigger someone with a history of trypophobi
This is an example of an image found in nature that may trigger someone with a history of trypophobi

Treatment options

There are various treatment approaches for managing this type of psychological problem. Exposure therapy seems to be the most effective form of treatment. This type of therapy helps the patient to control the fear, and changing their response with regard to the object that causes it. However, it must be done very carefully in order not to cause trauma.

This therapy should be done with the help of a psychologist through gradual exposure to the stimulus that causes the phobia. The therapist uses relaxation techniques through dialogue, so the person confronts the fear until the discomfort reduces.

This therapy can be combined with other techniques that help to reduce anxiety and treat the fear:

  • Medication to help reduce anxiety and panic attacks, such as beta-blockers and sedatives;
  • Relaxation techniques like yoga;
  • Physical exercise to reduce anxiety.

Trypophobia is still not recognized in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the American Psychiatric Association, but some studies prove the phobia exists and causes symptoms that can negatively impact people's lives.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in May 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Gonzalo Ramirez - General Practitioner and Psychologist in May 2022.

References

  • VLOK-BARNARD, Michelle; STEIN Dan J.. Trypophobia: an investigation of clinical features. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria. Vol.39, n.4. 337-341, 2017
Medical review:
Dr. Gonzalo Ramirez
General Practitioner and Psychologist
Dr. Ramirez possesses a medical degree from the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). He also specializes in clinical psychology.