Trypophobia: Triggers, Causes, Treatment, and More

Written by Resurchify | Updated on: August 04, 2022

Trypophobia: Triggers, Causes, Treatment, and More

Trypophobia: A Comprehensive Guide.

What is Trypophobia?

Trypophobia is an excessive and strong dread of repeated or clustered patterns of holes or bumps, as seen in honeycomb, sunflowers, or lotus seed pods. The term was originally a combination of Greek words, 'trypa' meaning 'punching or drilling holes and bumps' and 'phobia' meaning 'fear'. People who have this type of phobia feel nauseated or disgusted while continuously looking into a hole or any crowded pattern. Though trypophobia is not yet considered a mental illness, people with this type of fear or phobia may fulfill the requirements of phobia if the sight of any crowded patterns makes them feel upset or creates a sense of anxiety and distress. Specialists typically determine a phobia diagnosis using the criteria provided by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). But while determining trypophobia, it is not yet sure if the criteria given by the DSM-5 are suitable to interpret the illness in individuals. For instance, a particular study undertaken in 2018 by the Frontiers in Psychiatry found that many patients who claim to be hit by trypophobia expressed disgust and anxiety rather than fear or aversion. Hence, the researchers of this study claimed to consider this trypophobia as a sense of anxiety and disorder rather than labelling it as a mere phobia. Fear is a typical symptom of this illness, but disgust is frequently characterized as the predominant sensation that people experience when they have this phobia. This phobia is also greatly influenced by the visual component. Seeing pictures online or in print might cause sentiments of disgust or dread. 

In contrast to the experiment undertaken by the Frontiers in Psychiatry, another report published by the Brazilian Journals of Psychiatry proved that trypophobia is indeed a kind of fear or aversion. They undertook a study wherein a 12-year-old girl was asked to pen down what she fears the most, and to everyone's utmost surprise, the girl drew some dots and a cluster of patterns. This psychological stress and impairment of the girl can be considered a kind of phobia with some determined symbols and symptoms. 

Though numerous instances and studies differ from one another regarding the consideration of trypophobia as fear and an occurrence of anxiety, any object that triggers a sense of extreme irritation or irrational aversion can reasonably be regarded as a phobia. There have been an enormous amount of studies on this type of fear, and existing research hasn't determined if trypophobia is a distinct mental health disease.

What triggers Trypophobia? 

Some of the most common things triggering the occurrence of trypophobia are as follows: 

  • Pebbles in the roads or holes in graveled roads
  • The seed pods or the head of a lotus flower
  • The LEDs which are present in traffic lights
  • Various skin problems such as sores, swellings, cuts, lesions, scabs, and so on
  • Any food items covered with seeds on top. For instance, bread covered with seeds, cake toppings, etc.
  • The frosting in the cake or pie
  • Strawberries
  • Coral reefs
  • Water condensation
  • Soap or detergent bubbles
  • The air holes that are present in bread or any slices of cheese
  • The head of a shower
  • Pomegranates
  • Sponge pieces
  • Honeycombs
  • Bees and various insects
  • The skin of frogs, lizards, or snakes that have scales and holes in them
  • Shoe soles
  • Bagels with seeds
  • Papaya, kiwi, raspberries, etc.
  • Sunflowers
  • Wallpapers with irregular patterns of circles, dots, or any symbols
  • Acne and pimples
  • Mumps or measles
  • Pinecones
  • Repeated circles
  • Skins of leopards or any other such animals
  • Watermelons, cantaloupes, muskmelon, plums, etc.
  • Aluminium foil
  • Uneven maze patterns
  • Insect eyes
  • Geographic patterns
  • Bubble wrap
  • Hair follicles

Symptoms of Trypophobia

Every type of phobia elicits both psychological, physical, and autonomic nervous system reactions. Because powerful emotions and painful feelings generate different physical symptoms simultaneously, these reactions and extreme responses speed up an individual's negative and terrible experiences. Symptoms of this type of phobia are distinct. Most of the time, they are associated with emotions of disdain, revulsion, and unease rather than terror. Some of the symptoms associated with trypophobia are as follows:

  • A strong feeling of nervousness or fear
  • Shivering of the body and feeling cold
  • Goosebumps
  • Sweating
  • Crying
  • Sudden panic attacks
  • Pain in the chest
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea or feeling uncomfortable
  • General discomfort
  • Experiencing fast heartbeats
  • A discomfort in visual experience. This might include distortions, the strain of the eyesight, illusions, and so on
  • A strong desire to run away from the object or the image
  • Faintness
  • A feeling of dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Senseless or numb
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling that something is crawling on your skin
  • Rapid shortness of breath
  • Helplessness
  • Palm sweating
  • Anxiety and disgust
  • Palpitations

Causes of Trypophobia

Though fears or phobias do not have any specific cause, they are the products of a number of combinations and complex factors, including trauma faced in previous times, genetics or family history, learned responses early in life, long-term anxiety or depression, and so on. Some scientists like to believe that this phobia of densely packed holes stems from a biological fear of poisonous or otherwise harmful organisms. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam claim that trypophobia is merely an "exaggerated and vastly over-generalized interpretation of a normal adaptive reaction" to patterns and phenomena in our environment that we fundamentally see as harmful or threatening. Trypophobic responses may be provoked by pictures of deadly creatures, such as snakes or insects, or other reptiles with scales, patterned skin, or uneven clustered parts of the body. Images of damaged skin with scattered pores or lumps may also generate trypophobia. Researchers suggest that feelings of revulsion or anxiety in reaction to these kinds of stimulation are an effective evolutionary adaptation that is designed to protect human beings from poisonous creatures and illnesses that are communicable or can be transferred from one person to another. On the other hand, contrary evidence indicates that trypophobia may just be a typical or natural human reactivity to specific sorts of external stimulation rather than just a serious phobia or fear. Other studies feel the dread is caused by social anxiety or social phobia. Circles resemble clusters of eyes or faces looking at an individual, which may be distressing if one is uncomfortable in social situations. Many persons suffering from trypophobia strongly dislike dead skin, burn marks, or other sequences of dermatitis and skin abnormalities, prompting some experts to relate this fear to another evolutionary mechanism: the need to resist pathogens or infectious skin conditions or disorders.

Some of the major theories which are common for causing trypophobia are as follows:

The theory of stress caused by discomfort in visual experience

This theory suggests that trypophobia may not be a genetic evolution rather it can be caused by the stress caused by the disturbance in visuals in an individual. The neuroscience behind this theory is quite interesting. Infrared spectroscopy is used to examine people with trypophobia where the blood and activity of an individual can be seen or visualized. When individuals were shown trypophobic pictures, blood was discovered at the rear of their brains - in the sensory parts of the brain instead of the frontal decision-making portions. This might mean that our trypophobic reaction isn't alerting us to conclude just how harmful an item is. Rather it implies that there might not be a biological plausibility to why humans loathe certain visuals - it could simply be that the brain dislikes them.

The aposematic colouration theory or the theory of aposematism

This theory explains that there might not be any new cause of trypophobia rather that the brain might only warn us to be careful of certain insects or objects. When we look at some bright coloured insects or reptiles, it might instigate a feeling in us that that particular insect could be dangerous, and hence we fear those insects due to their body structure and unusual bright colour. This theory evolved to be fearful of such patterns as they are normally seen in poisonous food or animals. 

The modern meme theory that is common on the internet

Many review publications have highlighted that it is difficult to distinguish genetic influences from social influences. It's a matter of great concern that more individuals acquire nightmares of spiders or scorpions but not of vehicles, which are much more likely to kill them. There's this huge argument going on online or on different social media platforms concerning phobia that some are acquired by the individuals themselves, which can never be understood or resolved. It's the whole nature vs nurture argument. Because there have been fears of many different things before the invention of the internet which remain unaddressed till today. However, according to a certain study, some six-month-old newborns were found to have somewhat increasing fear when shown pictures of venomous creatures contrasted to flowers and goldfish. But, this does not indicate that typical human phobias and anxieties are inborn. With trypophobia, it's becoming more difficult to differentiate nature from nurture, especially when it comes to outcomes. It's very uncertain to locate an adult who has never seen a trypophobic image before and examine them where these photos are becoming more common online in today's modern world of technology. The cause of the phobia, according to this theory, remains uncertain.

The pathological theory

According to this theory, trypophobia is an evolutionary adaptation. Since many skin diseases have evolutionary traits, humans have also considered giving special attention to various patterns that arouse a sense of fear or aversion. It is thought that human beings have acquired susceptibility to various skin diseases and that pathogens cause them. According to this pathogenic approach, a trypophobic reaction may keep us attentive to any sickness, whether on ourselves or someone else. 

Though scientists cannot pinpoint one particular cause of trypophobia, however, they have given some pieces of evidence of the cause of this type of illness. Some of them are as follows:

  1. One of the research suggests that trypophobia has evolutionary roots since several harmful creatures and illnesses have similar visual representations. It might have been thought to evolve as survival or coping mechanism to escape the dangers of diseases.
  2.  Some patients with trypophobia may also have other psychiatric disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, panic attacks, chronic depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.
  3. Another study implies that trypophobia is a typical human tendency to react to specific types of visual inputs rather than fear or phobia.
  4. Some different studies also show that a rough item may unconsciously be associated with sores or ulcers, such as those observed in measles, mumps, chickenpox, and smallpox. Groupings of openings can be misinterpreted as infectious skin problems, and particular patterns might sometimes resemble venomous animals. This is just a mental image that is formed in the minds of the individuals, which is later transformed into fear, and the individual goes on to fear reptiles or other such creatures.
  5. In a similar way, an individual might be afraid of aggregated arrangements of food items as well as other eatables. This is because they think that those food items are damaged after all the way the food items are presented resembles those of yeast, bacteria, and maggots, which might turn the food items into something unsafe and disgusting to consume.
  6.  Sometimes some instinctive characteristics also lead to cause trypophobia in humans. Hence it is not sure if the phobia that is aroused is original or just man-made fear.
  7.  One important theory, known as the Involuntary Protection Against Dermatosis (IPAD) hypothesis suggests that trypophobia is an involuntary response to seeing images that resemble skin conditions. So, this might be one of the causes of phobia or fear.

Since there is a very limited amount of research regarding the cause of trypophobia, hence the above-mentioned ones are some of the causes of this disease.

Treatment of Trypophobia

Since trypophobia is not a specific mental condition, hence the treatment also varies. There is no one particular treatment option for the disease. However, there are some necessary medical treatments for people with different phobias. Some of the common ones are described below:

  1. Exposure therapy is one of the most effective methods of treating this type of phobia. This sort of treatment assists the patient in controlling their fear and adjusting their response to the item that is causing it. It is effective in reducing an individual's phobic response by slowly exposing them to the objects they try to avoid or keep a safe distance from. However, one should be very careful while performing this type of therapy and must be handled with extreme care and caution so that it doesn't lead to causing an extra amount of trauma and anxiety.
  2. According to some research, an antidepressant such as sertraline, commonly known as Zoloft, combined with a kind of psychological treatment known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be beneficial. CBT attempts to alter the false beliefs that create feelings of stress or anxiety. CBT also focuses on improving victims' psychological, physiological, and interpersonal interpretation of circumstances that may trigger their terror of gaps or voids, holes, which may include exposure treatment therapy at times. Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications may be administered at times, especially if the individual already suffers from severe depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antidepressants, and beta-blockers are examples of such medications. These drugs can be taken on their own, but they are frequently used in combination with other therapeutic strategies, such as CBT or other forms of psychotherapy.
  3. The beta receptors that try to block the functioning of the body can also be treated by using beta-blockers. They counteract the anxiety and prevent them from appearing again and again on seeing the items that might cause trypophobia in individuals. This also helps in reducing the heart rate, thereby dropping the blood pressure, which again helps to reduce anxiety and fears in humans. Propranolol may help in reducing fear-related symptoms, sweating of palms, dizziness, as well as rapid, heartbeats. 
  4. Various mindfulness meditations can also help to alleviate sensations of revulsion, dread, or worry. Some tactics that may be beneficial include visual representation, breathing exercises, and sequential muscular release. Visual representation comprises envisioning soothing and calm sights or surroundings. When confronted with anything covered in small holes, a person suffering from trypophobia may try to imagine a lovely sunset or a field of blossoms. A simple diversion might sometimes be an effective stress response. If someone encounters anything that causes a trypophobic reaction, one may just look away and find something else that might help them to think about or look at until their symptoms or difficulties subside.
  5. Long-term lifestyle adjustments to help lower general anxiety include exercising, doing yoga, meditation or practising mindfulness, eating a balanced diet, following healthy lifestyles like early sleeping and early rising, frequent treks in nature, practising different breathing techniques, and so on, may also be beneficial.
  6. Flooding treatment: the goal of this therapy is to desensitize the individual to trypophobia, which is accomplished by entirely submerging the individual in non-debilitating signals. The technique is repeated until the dread of the thing is fully gone. To get beneficial outcomes, this procedure is often done in combination with relaxation therapy.
  7. Another therapy used to treat trypophobia is combination therapy where cognitive and behavioural therapies are employed in tandem. This therapy assists the patient in responding to his or her fear while also functioning normally when confronted with tiny clusters of holes or openings. 
  8. Confronting one's fear can also help in preventing this type of phobia. Recognizing or even penning them down may sometimes help in reducing the anxiety and fear that it causes in individuals.
  9. The situations need to be encountered as much as possible. Before confronting the scary topics on one's list, it is better, to begin with, scenarios that cause less worry or anxiety. When one has gathered the courage to master one circumstance, it is advisable to move on to the next until one has reached one's most fearful situation.
  10. If an individual feels that his or her fear or the pressure of anxiety is increasing continuously, then it is of utmost necessity that the person must seek professional help. It would then be more open and realistic and one might easily escape oneself from the fear that has been chasing them for their entire life.

Some Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs) on Trypophobia

How much percentage of the population is affected by trypophobia every year?

According to a study undertaken by the Department of Psychological Science, though trypophobia is not classified as a disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Psychiatry for Mental Disorders, it is present in almost 16% of the population.

Is trypophobia a real illness?

Trypophobia exists, although it is not categorized as a separate mental condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). However, people who are suffering from trypophobia potentially satisfy the diagnostic criteria for a phobia if their symptoms interfere with their daily lives.

What impact can trypophobia have upon one's life?

Researchers discovered that those who have trypophobia are more prone to suffer from severe anxiety and depression symptoms. Trypophobia symptoms were also observed to be chronic, resulting in neurological dysfunction in everyday activities. There has been little investigation on trypophobia, but one research may help us understand why one internet myth spread so widely — it discovered that trypophobia is stronger when holes are presented on the skin of living beings rather than on non-living things such as pebbles or rocks. In this way, trypophobia can affect a person's life.




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