Trypophobia refers to a strong fear or disgust of closely packed holes. The name, first introduced on a web forum in 2005, combines the Greek words “trypa” (punching or drilling holes) and “phobia” (fear or aversion).
People who have this phobia typically feel queasy, disgusted, and distressed when looking at surfaces that have small holes gathered close together or clustered into a pattern.
Experts don’t yet officially recognize trypophobia as a specific phobia. Studies exploring this phobia remain limited, and existing research hasn’t reached a conclusion on whether to consider trypophobia a unique mental health condition.
That said, there are plenty of anecdotal reports of people experiencing trypophobia.
Read on to learn more about the fear of holes, including potential triggers, causes, and how to get support when it causes extreme distress.
Trypophobia is mainly visual. If you have this phobia, you might feel anxiety, disgust, and discomfort when looking at things like:
- lotus seed pods
- seeded breads
- Swiss cheese
- scabs or lesions on skin
- aluminum metal foam
- pebbled or graveled roads
- a cluster of eyes
Animals with spotted skin or fur — think leopards, Dalmatians, or poison dart frogs — can also prompt revulsion and fear.
Some people with a fear of holes have an aversion to surfaces with irregularly shaped holes only. They may not notice the same level of discomfort when looking at surfaces with holes of the same size, like those in a showerhead or on a fabric patterned with polka dots.
Others might find all closely packed holes uncomfortable and upsetting.
Pictures of trypophobia triggers
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.
While you might associate phobias with fear,
You might also begin to feel disgusted, uncomfortable, or anxious when thinking about something that has this appearance — if, say, your partner begins to tell you how much they love strawberries and you start to visualize the fruit.
Specific symptoms might include:
- goosebumps, chills, or the sensation of your skin crawling
- gagging or nausea
- rapid heartbeat
- dizziness or lightheadness
- visual discomfort, including eye strain, distortions, or illusions
- a general sense of discomfort or distress
- a strong desire to get away from the image or object
- feelings of panic or a panic attack
- shaking or trembling
Scientific evidence has yet to pinpoint a clear cause of trypophobia, but there are a few potential explanations.
Some experts theorize this fear of closely-packed holes may develop as an extension of a biological fear of venomous or otherwise dangerous creatures.
Researchers who analyzed images that produced an anxiety response in people with trypophobia found that high contrast colors in a certain graphic arrangement tended to trigger anxiety, disgust, and other symptoms.
They also found that images of certain highly dangerous animals, including the king cobra, deathstalker scorpion, and blue-ringed octopus, shared certain spectral properties with the trypophobic images. Spectral properties refer to subtle things, like contrast and spatial frequency, that can impact how your eyes and brain take in images.
The fear of holes, then, may be less a fear of holes and more an unconscious association of harmless items (like lotus seed pods) with feared animals (like a blue-ringed octopus) because they share certain spectral features.
In other words, trypophobia may stem from your evolved ability to detect threats in your environment.
Many people with trypophobia also experience a strong aversion to scabs, pockmarks, or other patterns of rashes and skin markings, leading some experts to link this phobia to another evolutionary response: the drive to avoid germs or contagious skin conditions or illnesses.
Other experts aren’t so sure
In one 2017 study involving 94 preschoolers, who typically don’t have the same fear of snakes and spiders as older children and adults, researchers showed 4-year-olds several sets of images:
- trypophobic images featuring small holes
- images and line drawings of venomous animals
- images and line drawings of nonvenomous animals
According to the results, children who experienced distress when looking at trypophobic images also experienced distress when looking at color images of venomous animals — but not when looking at the line drawings of the same animals.
Study authors believe these results support the idea that trypophobia relates only to the unique spectral characteristics shared by certain animals and clusters or patterns of holes, rather than an unconscious fear of dangerous creatures. They do, however, note the need for more research exploring the fear of holes.
Again, research on trypophobia remains in the early stages, so experts aren’t yet certain exactly what factors can increase your chances of developing a fear of holes.
That said, it’s not uncommon for a phobia to begin after an unpleasant or distressing event with the object of the phobia.
Based on the potential causes of trypophobia, it’s possible your aversion could begin after an encounter with a venomous snake, exposure to a contagious skin condition, or another trypophobia trigger.
- 19 percent of participants had a diagnosis of major depression, and an additional 8.7 percent believed they could have major depression
- 17.4 percent of participants had a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, while an additional 11.8 percent believed they could have GAD
- Many participants reported other mental health diagnoses, including social anxiety (8.2 percent) and panic disorder (6.2 percent)
Research from 2016 also noted a link between social anxiety and trypophobia, suggesting that for people with social anxiety, the fear of holes could in fact be a fear of eyes, or the human gaze. Seeing clusters of holes might provoke the sensation of many pairs of eyes gazing back at you, leading to distress and discomfort.
You also have a higher chance of developing any phobia if you have a family history of anxiety conditions and phobias in particular.
Only mental health professionals can diagnose phobias, like a fear of holes. Since there’s no official diagnosis of trypophobia, a therapist won’t diagnose trypophobia specifically.
All the same, they can certainly recognize when the appearance of clustered holes causes intense distress and offer guidance and support on working through that fear. They may offer a more general diagnosis of specific phobia.
Plus, a therapist can also help identify any other mental health symptoms you live with, including signs of anxiety conditions or depression, by asking questions about:
- the symptoms you experience
- the things that trigger them
- how they affect your daily life
Support from a mental health professional can go a long way toward helping ease symptoms of trypophobia.
Potential approaches to treatment might include:
- Exposure therapy. This approach allows you to begin facing your fear in the safe environment of therapy so you can learn — with a therapist’s support — to change your response to the object or situation causing your fear. Experts generally consider exposure therapy the most effective approach for phobias.
- CBT. This approach teaches strategies to help identify, challenge, and reframe unwanted thoughts and distressing feelings. CBT techniques can help you learn to manage overwhelming emotions, including feelings of anxiety and fear.
No medication specifically treats trypophobia symptoms, but a psychiatrist or other prescribing clinician might recommend medication if you experience:
- extreme feelings of anxiety or panic in certain situations
- anxiety overwhelming enough to get in the way of everyday life or keep you from making progress in therapy
- symptoms that don’t improve with therapy alone
Medication options for specific phobias might include:
Your therapist might also recommend other strategies to help you manage anxiety and emotional distress. These might include:
- relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, yoga, and meditation
- spending time in nature and other calming environments
- mindful breathing, observation, listening, and other mindfulness tricks to help cope with stress
- taking time for hobbies and enjoyable activities
While taking care of your physical health may not address your phobia directly, good self-care can go a long way toward helping you feel more able to manage anxiety and other symptoms.
A few tips that may help:
- Aim to get around 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Eat a balanced diet and limit foods that can trigger anxiety.
- Get regular physical activity, if you’re able — exercise can help ease anxiety and depression symptoms.
- Limit caffeine, especially if you’re sensitive to its effects, since it could worsen anxiety symptoms.
- Reach out to friends and family to talk through your feelings.
- Find a support group to connect with other people living with the same symptoms.
In search of a therapist?
If you’d like to try online therapy, our review of the best online therapy options can help you start your search for the right teletherapy service for your needs.
Experts may not yet recognize the fear of holes as an official phobia, but that doesn’t mean your symptoms aren’t real.
If your symptoms cause emotional distress and affect your daily life, talking with a mental health professional is a good next step. They can help you explore possible causes, triggers, and helpful strategies to manage anxiety, disgust, and other unwanted emotions related to trypophobia.