Phobia holes in skin


What’s Causing This Skin Lesion?

Many conditions can cause different types of skin lesions. Here are 21 possible causes and types.

Warning: Graphic images ahead.


  • Commonly located on the face, neck, shoulders, chest, and upper back
  • Breakouts on the skin composed of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, or deep, painful cysts and nodules
  • May leave scars or darken the skin if untreated

Read full article on acne.

Cold sore

  • Red, painful, fluid-filled blister that appears near the mouth and lips
  • Affected area will often tingle or burn before the sore is visible
  • Outbreaks may also be accompanied by mild, flu-like symptoms such as low fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes

Read full article on cold sores.

Herpes simplex

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  • The viruses HSV-1 and HSV-2 cause oral and genital lesions
  • These painful blisters occur alone or in clusters and weep clear yellow fluid and then crust over
  • Signs also include mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, headache, body aches, and decreased appetite
  • Blisters may reoccur in response to stress, mensturation, illness, or sun exposure

Read full article on herpes simplex.

Actinic keratosis

  • Typically less than 2 cm, or about the size of a pencil eraser
  • Thick, scaly, or crusty skin patch
  • Appears on parts of the body that receive a lot of sun exposure (hands, arms, face, scalp, and neck)
  • Usually pink in color but can have a brown, tan, or gray base

Read full article on actinic keratosis.

Allergic eczema

  • May resemble a burn
  • Often found on hands and forearms
  • Skin is itchy, red, scaly, or raw
  • Blisters that weep, ooze, or become crusty

Read full article on allergic eczema.


  • Common in babies and children
  • Rash is often located in the area around the mouth, chin, and nose
  • Irritating rash and fluid-filled blisters that pop easily and form a honey-colored crust

Read full article on impetigo.

Contact dermatitis

  • Appears hours to days after contact with an allergen
  • Rash has visible borders and appears where your skin touched the irritating substance
  • Skin is itchy, red, scaly, or raw
  • Blisters that weep, ooze, or become crusty

Read full article on contact dermatitis.


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  • Scaly, silvery, sharply defined skin patches
  • Commonly located on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back
  • May be itchy or asymptomatic

Read full article on psoriasis.


  • Clusters of itchy, red, fluid-filled blisters in various stages of healing all over the body
  • Rash is accompanied by fever, body aches, sore throat, and loss of appetite
  • Remains contagious until all blisters have crusted over

Read full article on chickenpox.


  • Very painful rash that may burn, tingle, or itch, even if there are no blisters present
  • Rash comprising clusters of fluid-filled blisters that break easily and weep fluid
  • Rash emerges in a linear stripe pattern that appears most commonly on the torso, but may occur on other parts of the body, including the face
  • Rash may be accompanied by low fever, chills, headache, or fatigue

Read full article on shingles.

Sebaceous cyst

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  • Sebaceous cysts are found on the face, neck, or torso
  • Large cysts may cause pressure and pain
  • They are noncancerous and very slow growing

Read full article on sebaceous cyst.

MRSA (staph) infection

Share on PinterestImage by: Public Health Image Library (PHIL)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • An infection caused by a type of Staphylococcus, or staph, bacteria that’s resistant to many different antibiotics
  • Causes an infection when it enters through a cut or scrape on the skin
  • Skin infection often looks like a spider bite, with a painful, raised, red pimple that may drain pus
  • Needs to be treated with powerful antibiotics and can lead to more dangerous conditions like cellulitis or blood infection

Read full article on MRSA infection.


This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • Caused by bacteria or fungi entering through a crack or cut in the skin
  • Red, painful, swollen skin with or without oozing that spreads quickly
  • Hot and tender to the touch
  • Fever, chills, and red streaking from the rash might be a sign of serious infection requiring medical attention

Read full article on cellulitis.


Share on PinterestNo machine-readable author provided. Cixia assumed (based on copyright claims). , via Wikimedia Commons

  • Symptoms may take four to six weeks to appear
  • Extremely itchy rash may be pimply, made up of tiny blisters, or scaly
  • Raised, white or flesh-toned lines

Read full article on scabies.


  • Bacterial or fungal infection of a hair follicle or oil gland
  • Can appear anywhere on the body, but are most common on the face, neck, armpit, and buttock
  • Red, painful, raised bump with a yellow or white center
  • May rupture and weep fluid

Read full article on boils.


  • Clear, watery, fluid-filled blister that is greater than 1 cm in size
  • Can be caused by friction, contact dermatitis, and other skin disorders
  • If clear liquid turns milky, there might be an infection

Read full article on bullaes.


  • Characterized by watery, clear, fluid-filled area on the skin
  • May be smaller than 1 cm (vesicle) or larger than 1 cm (bulla) and occur alone or in groups
  • Can be found anywhere on the body

Read full article on blisters.


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  • Small to medium growth that may be filled with tissue, fluid, or both
  • Usually wider than a pimple and may look like a firm, smooth elevation under the skin
  • Usually harmless, but may cause discomfort if it presses on other structures
  • Nodules may also be located deep inside the body where you cannot see or feel them

Read full article on nodules.


This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • Defined as a noticeable change in the color or texture of the skin
  • May be caused by many things, including insect bites, allergic reactions, medication side effects, fungal skin infection, bacterial skin infection, infectious disease, or autoimmune disease
  • Many rash symptoms can be managed at home, but severe rashes, especially those seen in combination with other symptoms such as fever, pain, dizziness, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, may require urgent medical treatment

Read full article on rashes.


  • Itchy, raised welts that occur after exposure to an allergen
  • Red, warm, and mildly painful to the touch
  • Can be small, round, and ring-shaped or large and randomly shaped

Read full article on hives.


Share on PinterestImage by: Htirgan (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

  • Symptoms occur at the site of a previous injury
  • Lumpy or rigid area of skin that may be painful or itchy
  • Area that is flesh-colored, pink, or red

Read full article on keloids.


Share on PinterestDermnet

  • Caused by many different types of a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • May be found on the skin or mucous membranes
  • May occur singly or in groups
  • Contagious and may be passed to others

Read full article on warts.

What’s behind a phobia of holes?

Julia was around 11 years old the first time it happened. She let herself into her dad’s apartment in Malmö, Sweden, dropped her schoolbag and flopped on to the sofa. She switched on the TV and turned to her favourite channel in time for the cartoons. The screen filled up with a cartoon man with a huge head. On his chin, in place of skin or a beard were huge cracks. Suddenly, she felt like she was going to throw up in disgust. She screwed up her eyes and fumbled for the button to turn off the TV.

Every few months or so after this, she would see something that she just could not bear. Something that made her feel utterly disgusted and terrified. Sometimes it was cracks, but other times it was patterns of holes or dots, or scenes from nature programmes showing things such as groups of barnacles. She would shake, pour with sweat and end up lying on the floor in tears. One time, she was chatting on the phone when she saw something so awful she threw her mobile across the room. No one else she knew seemed to have this strange reaction. What was going on?

Then, one day, when she was living in London in her early 20s, her then-boyfriend came bursting through the front door after work. “Julia!” he shouted. “I know what you have!”

Trypophobia is an aversion to clusters of holes or cracks that is associated with feelings of fear and disgust. You might not have heard of it. But do not worry: you won’t be able to forget it now. Psychologists recognise a number of phobias that can have a huge negative impact on people’s lives. The new kid on the block, trypophobia, is not yet widely accepted as one of them. There is even debate about whether it is a phobia at all, because while most phobias are synonymous with abject terror, a number seemingly provoke disgust as well as fear. Some researchers think that trypophobia is based only in disgust.

Asked what first triggered their trypophobia, people describe everything from a Christmas bauble to a picture of a wasps’ nest, pitted bricks in a wall, bubbles in cake batter, or the way water beaded on their shoulder after a shower. As well as such triggering objects in real life, many trypophobes describe images as being particularly problematic. Pictures involving lotus seed pods are often cited as initial triggers. The lotus plant produces large green seed heads that look almost like a shower head, with many large seeds. The “lotus boob” meme, a fake image and story about an infected breast, caused quite the stir when it started circulating on email back in 2003.

There is limited research into trypophobia, but one study might help explain why that meme (debunked by the fact-checking website Snopes) spread so far and wide – it found that trypophobia is more powerful when holes are shown on skin than on non-animal objects such as rocks. The disgust is greater when holes are superimposed on faces.

Of course, the lotus boob meme would not have gone anywhere without the internet. The web has been linked to the rise of other conditions that have physical or behavioural symptoms but, many believe, have their origin in the mind – so-called psychogenic conditions.

From Strasbourg’s dancing plague of 1518 to the 2011 case of twitching teenage girls in a small town in New York state, mass psychogenic illnesses are nothing new. They are part of the fabric of being human. But with the internet and its virtually instantaneous global avalanche of information, billions of us can be exposed to potential triggers wherever we are in the world. And anyone with a device and an internet connection is a potential agent of spread. Online communities have emerged around things such as Morgellons disease (an unexplained skin condition) and people who believe they are “targeted individuals”, being stalked, surveilled or experimented on by the establishment. So, is trypophobia another of these odd conditions? Is it a product of the digital world, or simply disseminated through it? And why for the affected people are holes – of all things – the cause of utter terror?

Julia’s boyfriend grabbed his laptop and typed furiously into a search engine. He picked a video from the results and clicked play. She lasted 10 seconds before bursting into tears and running out of the room. The video was one of many you can find today that “tests” if you have trypophobia. They tend to be a series of triggering images – everything from lotus flower seeds to sponges. Once she had calmed down, Julia thought about what this moment meant. “I was really surprised, but also kind of happy,” she says. “It felt kind of comforting that other people had the same thing.”

There was just one catch. She couldn’t search online for more information because the first thing you see when you search “trypophobia” is triggering images.

Hence her boyfriend became her designated Googler, reading aloud anything he could find on the condition. This was also how Julia discovered and joined one of the two main Facebook groups for trypophobes.

Skimming through the groups, it does not take long to realise that trypophobia creeps into all aspects of life. People affected live in constant fear of being accidentally or deliberately triggered by any number of seemingly innocuous pictures or objects, from crumpets to brake-lights.

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A massage therapist tells me: “I can’t look at certain things … I have to send some clients away if they have triggering skin issues.”

“The hairs on my arms rise whenever I see MANY holes,” writes another person. “I would come to think that I’m gonna die if I keep on looking.” They are also troubled by anything with “hairy spikes”.

Talking about Facebook, one person says they are “always wondering if I’m about to get slammed in the eyes with pods, or holes in rocks.” They go on to describe watching TV or movies. “There are costume and makeup artists that love the effect for depth on screen. We’ll spend the rest of our viewing time knotted up …”

One user describes himself as a “6ft 4 big guy” who was “absolutely flattened” by one picture.

Online and in real life, trypophobic people say they are also deliberately shown triggering pictures by people looking to elicit a reaction. “It’s never going to be funny to surprise me with a photo of tiny holes etc,” writes one. “Making me panic is just cruel.” For these people, trypophobia is a question that no one wants to have to answer: what is in those holes?

The patient is gowned up. A dotted black felt-tip line marks the boundaries of the bump. The doctor chooses her weapon. “Ready?” she asks. Knife to skin. A disembodied gloved hand hovers nearby, holding gauze. Nearly. Nearly. Nearly.

Then it happens. A huge jet of oatmealy pus rises out of a shoulder cyst. A blackhead yields to the forces applied to it, dead-skin gunk snaking and coiling its way out of the pore like butter being squished through a cream cracker. It is gross and mesmerising.

I am weirdly fascinated by the US dermatologist Sandra Lee, AKA Dr Pimple Popper. She has 3.5 million followers on Instagram, 5.4 million on her YouTube channel, SLMD, and a TV series. Clearly, I am not alone.

I cannot stop watching her videos once I start. I get a taste in my mouth – thick, slightly metallic saliva. The headrush of anticipation, impatience, tension building up before the release. If you are not au fait, then pimple popping is the trend for filming, up close and personal, the act of popping, squeezing or otherwise removing blackheads, cysts and other dermatological dementors. It is disgusting. It is also ambivalent, not in the sense of indecision or ambiguity, but rather a strong tension between opposing forces – something that researchers in the field say is “equally capable of helping and harming, making laugh and making angry”. For me, pimple popping is gross, but it is also compelling. Try a video on your nearest and dearest. (Mother-in-law: loves it; colleague who sits dangerously near to my desk: not so much.) Anecdotally, pimple-popping seems to divide the trypophobia community down the middle too.

“They are surprisingly satisfying. I don’t know why,” says Julia, who is partial to the occasional popping video despite her trypophobia. Does she find them triggering? “A little bit, but only on the level that it’s still kind of nice. It’s a super-weird mix, like doing something you know that’s a bit dangerous but you kind of like it.”

What is in those holes? Pus, blood, gunk. Gross, but familiar. And being dealt with.

Think of the last time you were disgusted, I-need-to-bleach-my-brain-and-wash-my-hands-forever disgusted. Whenever it was, and whatever was behind it, we have something in common. The face that you would have made (and that you are probably making now, remembering) is the same as mine when I last stepped in warm cat sick. Your eyebrows contract, your eyes narrow, your nose wrinkles and your upper lip curls. That disgusted snarl is controlled by a muscle called the levator labii superioris – the movement of which is seen as the unique facial expression for disgust.

Researchers suggest that we have evolved disgust to help us avoid pathogens – things that can cause disease – found in everything from spoiled food to poisonous plants, from vomit to dead bodies. Faced with things we associate with disease or decay, we instinctively screw up our faces, to try to stop them entering our bodies through our mouth, nose and eyes. We retch, say “yuck”, and back off to protect ourselves from exposure to them and their disease-laden possibilities.

This pathogen-avoidance reaction is now being seen as a key part of what is called the behavioural immune system. This describes our thought processes and behaviours when we try to avoid parasites and infectious diseases. Tom Kupfer, an emotions researcher at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, thinks that trypophobia is linked to our evolutionary adaptations to avoid parasites that live on our skin – things such as headlice and sand fleas. (Is it me, or is anyone else feeling itchy?)

Just as the typical disgust response evolved to stop us consuming things that could make us ill, skin-based responses like feeling itchy or that our skin is crawling may have evolved to protect us from these ectoparasites. In other words, our urge to scratch that itch is no different from a cow covered in flies swishing its tail, or a flea-ridden cat grooming itself.

A study co-led by Kupfer suggests that you do not need to feel parasites on your skin to get that response. “It looks like just those images can trigger the skin-protective response, even though that would normally be triggered by something actually crawling on your skin,” he says.

While people without trypophobia were grossed out by disease-related images such as ticks clustered on a dog’s ear, but not by images of innocuous things such as holes in bread, people with trypophobia reacted in exactly the same way to both sets of images. Kupfer suggests they could be overreacting in response to things that resemble pathogens or parasites but that are, in fact, harmless. Like someone scared of snakes getting a fright when they see a garden hose out of the corner of their eye.

As with pimple popping, there is an ambivalence within trypophobia. Some online support groups ban the posting of images that could trigger people, but over on Reddit, the subreddit for trypophobia is quite the opposite. As “ratterstinkle” told another user: “So the way it works in this sub is that people post pictures that trigger trypophobia.” This was in a thread called “That’ll do it”. Below was a phone screengrab showing a man with ragged, holey skin on his face.

Could clusters of holes actually appeal to some people? After all, there are tarantula-owners as well as arachnophobes; skydivers as well as people too terrified to climb up a stepladder. Perhaps. On Reddit there is a “trypophilia” subreddit, where one user asks, apparently rhetorically: “So, this is basically a mirror of /r/trypophobia with different captions? Am i missing something?”

On one of the two main trypophobia Facebook groups, one user explains their own love-hate relationship with trypophobic material: “Since I realised I wasn’t alone, I tried to desensitise myself to the images that affect me horribly. In trying to do that, I came across a YouTube video of a vet clinic in Gambia. Now I’ve become obsessed with watching their videos of a specific condition. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m obsessed; it’s one of the first things I watch when I wake up. I have to watch it several times throughout the day.”

Another writes: “I almost feel drawn to look at the images of it because maybe my brain is telling me that if I look at it enough it will stop bothering me.”

There is a fair bit of discussion about this kind of exposure therapy in the online groups, especially given that forms of it are used to treat psychiatric issues including phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, there does not seem to be any published research on its success or not in treating trypophobia.

Some trypophobic people seek solace in another internet trend: autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR has taken off big-time on YouTube. There are a reported 13m videos dedicated to it, designed to give viewers “brain tingles”. Fans of ASMR say it relaxes them and it can even beat insomnia. In April 2019, a New York hotel announced it was making in-room ASMR videos available for its guests. Classic ASMR fodder includes people eating, whispering, brushing hair, paper-crinkling, tapping and – somewhat curiously – the painting videos of the American TV artist Bob Ross.

There is an aspect of social contagion to these online communities, says Adrienne Massanari, associate professor in communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “You can easily share videos and gifs really quickly, and have this conversation that sort of takes you out of a sense of a solitary understanding of watching that video.”

With a couple of swipes and taps, the sender makes their experience of that little chunk of the internet a communal event. The sharing of such experiences is something Massanari calls “profoundly human”. We can feel this sense of connection even if the thing we’re sharing is something that seems revolting at first glance.

Julia doesn’t go online much, for fear of seeing something triggering. “It takes a long time to let go of it afterwards,” she says. She is careful about triggers offline, too. She loves TV and movies but will avoid anything that has underwater scenes in case she sees barnacles or animals with patterns of dots that look like holes. She doesn’t swim in the sea for the same reason – she stayed put on the boat during a family holiday in Egypt while her siblings enjoyed the water. She once made a friend change a jumper because it was full of holes and she couldn’t look at him.

She is a visual communication student and has the stunning Instagram you might expect: photos of skyscrapers, skylights, staircases. She even makes shopping trolleys and umbrellas beautiful – all stark angles, refraction and reflection, light and shadow. Some images show holes but they are regular, clean and clinical. Like the inside of her washing machine and round windows on the front of a building. It is precise. Contained. There are no cracks.

I ask if her course interacts with her trypophobia. “So far, not yet,” she says. “It’s a mix of theoretical and practical, and we’re taking photos of what we want to take photos of.”

I say her pictures look very linear. “I’ve never actually thought about it,” she says. “I love structure in the pictures. Maybe it’s about control.”

Have you had any treatment? I ask.

“Is there one?” she asks, surprised.

I stumble an answer about talking therapies.

Massanari tells me how some people with anxiety use things like pimple-popping, ASMR and miniature food (Google it – it is fascinating) to self-soothe.

“If you’re using these videos as a way of release and as a way of managing that can be both a really wonderful thing, but it’s also a really sad state of affairs,” says Massanari. “This is what people are doing because they may not have a lot of other outlets for professional support.”

For now, Julia will carry on as she has been, trying to avoid what she cannot stand. But even in sleep, she is not safe. Sometimes when dropping off, she sees pictures of holes which jolt her awake. Are they images you have seen before? I ask her. “No,” she says. “This is just my head making up holes.”

Once you know about trypophobia, whether you have it or not, you start to spot potential triggers everywhere. You start talking about it, too. In the pub, at work, in conversation with my mum, I am like Julia’s boyfriend or those Reddit posters, quickly pulling up a screen full of lotus seed pods, Surinam toads and honeycomb, reading the person’s facial responses. For many, it sounds too strange to be true. Just another socially contagious internet non-disease. Media coverage plays up populist angles – a Kardashian who goes “public with her trypophobia battle”, a celebrity chef who posts trypophobia-inducing images of beef wellingtons, or the student too scared of bubbles to do the washing-up.

What you don’t see – unless you go looking – is the debilitating power of one picture to ruin someone’s day or week. A compulsion to look at images that make you feel sick or panicky. Having to vet the movie you want to see with your child, the new boxset you have downloaded, the adverts on the bus, just in case something holey terrifying is waiting there.

Regardless of whether or not it is officially recognised as a phobia or another kind of condition, trypophobia is real for the people experiencing it. But as the internet plays its part in spreading these fearful images, it also facilitates connection. People from different continents who would never otherwise meet are online now discussing things like how upsetting a scene in the Wreck-It Ralph movie is.

In an online world that seems increasingly divided, subcultures like the ones based around trypophobia, ASMR and pimple-popping have one thing important in common. They remind us of our human-ness. Skin and bone. Flesh and blood. Whether with pleasure or digust, or a bit of both, we are feeling. We are alive.

• This is an edited version of an article first published by Wellcome on and republished here under a Creative Commons licence. Sign up to the Mosaic newsletter here.

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Lotus flower seeds

University of Kent

**Warning, this post contains images which might cause feelings of intense disgust. All images were collected as part of the University of Kent’s study into trypophobia**

Look at a bubble. Round, aerated, generally mysterious. But when do bubbles become nauseating?

From bubbles in a hot cup of coffee, to holes in a sponge or plaster, while the common appearance may seem innocuous it has been known to trigger intensely anxious responses. And that response has a name: Trypophobia.

What is Trypophobia and what causes it?

Trypophobia, characterised as the fear of holes, has also been linked to a more generalised aversion to circular shapes such as bubbles. But what makes bubbles so disgusting? The answer may be found lurking just under the skin.

Boy’s hand with smallpox scars

University of Kent

Previous evidence suggested that the fear of bubbles stemmed from the clusters of round shapes found on poisonous animals, such as snakes and the blue-ringed octopus. But a new theory from psychologists at the University of Kent suggests our innate suspicion of rough circular shapes could, in fact, be linked to a history of human illness.

Foot with cluster marks

University of Kent

Tom Kupfer, of the University’s School of Psychology, noted that many infectious diseases result in clusters of round shapes on the skin: smallpox, measles, rubella, typhus, scarlet fever etc. Similarly, many ectoparasites, like scabies, ticks and botfly also lead to clusters of round shapes on the skin. In other words, if your skin starts popping, it’s probably a bad sign.

Drilled holes in a wall

University of Kent

Kupfer recruited 300 trypophobia sufferers from various support groups, as well as 300 university students with no known history of the condition. Both groups were given 16 cluster images of real objects related to a diseased part of the body. Eight pictures were focused on images of illness – including but not limited to such nauseating sights as a cluster of ticks and a circular-shaped rash in the centre of someone’s chest. The other eight images were unrelated to illness or disease, such as drilled holes in a brick wall, or lotus flower seeds.

A cluster of ticks on a dog’s ear

University of Kent

Both groups found the disease-related images to be unpleasant, whereas only the trypophobia sufferers found the non-disease related images to be extremely unpleasant. These findings suggest that individuals with trypophobia have heightened responses to bubble aversion, even in images with no underlying scenes of illness. But unlike most phobias, trypophobia results in intense feelings of disgust more often than fear.

Drilled holes in a tree

University of Kent

Kupfer and his team then asked trial participants with trypophobia to describe their feelings when looking at cluster images. Analysis of these responses revealed that the majority of individuals with trypophobia experienced disgust or disgust-related feelings like nausea or the urge to vomit, even towards the disease-irrelevant cluster images like a sponge or bubbles. Only a small proportion described feeling fear or fear-related feelings.

Man’s chest with a rash

University of Kent

In addition to disgust, trypophobic individuals frequently reported feelings like skin itching, skin crawling or even the sensation of ‘bugs infesting the skin’. This skin response suggests that people with trypophobia may perceive cluster stimuli as if they are cues to ectoparasites, even leading some to feel as if they are infested.

Waterbug with eggs on back

University of Kent

Kupfer states that, “these findings support the proposal that individuals with trypophobia primarily perceive cluster stimuli as cues to ectoparasites and skin-transmitted pathogens”.

Scrolling through the images, it’s easy to see why these bubbles created such strong responses. If you’ve actually managed to pay attention to my words instead of the bulbous ticks and scars before you, congratulations. You can go throw up now.

TRYPOPHOBIA is the term used to describe those who have an irrational fear of clusters of small holes or bumps.

Believed by some scientists that it’s in our genes to dislike tightly packed shapes, other experts claim that it is learned behaviour.

8 Some experts believe that humans instinctively associate the clusters with dangerCredit: Alamy

What is a phobia?

A phobia is described by the NHS as an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.

They are more pronounced than fears and tend to develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger regarding a situation or object.

If a phobia sufferer doesn’t come into contact with the source of their problem very often it may not affect their life – although in some cases even thinking about the thing they fear can give a person “anticipatory anxiety”.

If a phobia becomes very severe, the person suffering may organise their life around avoiding the aspect that’s causing distress.

8 Credit: Alamy

Some sufferers have reported feeling sick and panicky at the sight of bumps or holes that are grouped together

Symptoms of phobias

Typical symptoms associated with phobias can include:

  • Dizziness, trembling and increased heart rate
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • A sense of unreality
  • Fear of dying
  • Preoccupation with the fear object

What is trypophobia and what are the symptoms?

8 The strange phobia was only defined 12 years ago, but many sufferers have since come forwardCredit: Alamy

The term trypophobia was coined in 2005 by internet users that merged the Greek words for hole and fear.

While it is yet to be officially defined as a condition, a study in Psychological Science has estimated that trypophobia is present in 16 per cent of people.

The academic paper explains that the condition provokes an intense reaction, even though “the stimuli are usually clusters of holes of any variety that are almost always innocuous and seemingly pose no threat.”

The severity of the fear ranges on a case to case basis.

While some find that clusters of holes causes them feel uncomfortable, others have claimed that the sight of the images can make them shake all over in fear.

What is the cause of trypophobia?

8 Some believe the fear is innate, while others claim that the condition only surfaces as a result of nurtureCredit: Alamy

While research on the condition is still in its infancy, some experts believe that it is human DNA to feel repelled by the repeated patterns.

Wilkins and Cole set out their theory a study from 2013.

They argued that it is instinctual to associate the shapes with danger, as the brain naturally associates them with disease or wounds.

Professor Matthews has pushed another theory, claiming that it’s likely people are afraid of the images because of priming and conditioning.

Why has the new iPhone triggered the phobia in some?

On September 10, Apple unveiled it’s newest iPhone and some fans were not pleased with its latest design.

The smart phone’s Pro and Pro Max feature three different camera lenses, which are close to each other.

Many on social media claimed it triggers their trypophobia.

8 This person tweeted that the new iPhone triggered a phobia 8 The tech giant is gracing us with two new phones and their features are nothing short of incredibleCredit: EPA


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Is there a cure for trypophobia?

8 CBT, counselling and hypnosis have all been used as methods to cope with the debilitating phobiaCredit: Alamy

Just like treating other phobias, curing irrational fear often isn’t easy.

Cognitive behaviour therapy can be used to help sufferers change their unproductive thought patterns.

This allows them to distinguish that their intense fear is in their imagination.

Other treatment that is taken on by trypophobics includes behaviour therapy, counselling and hypnosis.

Do any celebrities suffer from trypophobia?

8 The Victoria’s Secret model has admitted that she struggles with trypophobiaCredit: Getty Images – FilmMagic

As trypophobia is a newly defined phenomenon, not many celebrities have come forward to claim that they suffer from the unexplainable fear.

Despite this, reality star royalty Kendall Jenner has admitted that she struggles to look at clusters of holes.

Writing on her website, she confessed: “Things that could set me off are pancakes, honeycomb, or lotus heads (the worst!).

“It sounds ridiculous, but so many people actually have it!

“I can’t even look at little holes — it gives me the worst anxiety. Who knows what’s in there???”

Trypophobia definition

Coming from the Greek word trypa, meaning “hole,” and the Greek combining form –phobia, meaning “fear.” So trypophobia means the fear of holes in a simple term.

What is trypophobia?

Shortly explained, it is the phobia of holes. Although it has still not been recognized as a type of phobia yet. Many will feel sick and disgusted by seeing holes or irregular holes with some type of seeds in them, this feeling should not be confused with trypophobia. As phobias trigger a panic attack or heightened levels of anxiety. The sufferer from a phobia will always try as hard as possible to avoid seeing or touching what they have a phobia for. So if it makes your skin crawl, or feel itchy and a little disgusted, chances are, you don’t have trypophobia. If you feel anxious when seeing holes or multiple holes, irregular or not. It could be trypophobia.

Fear of holes

Holes that may trigger anxiety would be like the lotus pod, holes in skin, clusters of eyes on insects, seeing a bee nest or maybe a hole in the ground. Even seeing a coral could potentially trigger the fear response.

Trypophobia signs

Signs of fear and being afraid, highly disgusted, strongly avoiding the holes and generally being stressed out would be tell tale signs of trypophobia.

Trypophobia symptoms

Feeling slight to severe discomfort, sweating, heart-rate increasing, nauseated, having general anxiety or getting panic attacks are sure symptoms of trypophobia.

Trypophobia causes

Some scientists believe that this fear of holes may originate from way back (thousands of years) when it was rational to fear empty or darkness filled holes, as they could potentially be deadly for instance bee/wasp nests, spiders hiding or other types of holes that could hide a deadly animal. This primal fear of holes could still linger in some of us.

Trypophobia test

Am I trypophobic?

Well, if you see a hole or holes, do you feel your heart-rate increase? Do you sweat? Feel like running away? Do you have to avoid it at all cost? Do you get panic attacks from seeing holes? If you answered yes to some or all of these questions you probably have trypophobia.

Trypophobia treatment

There is no known specific treatment to cure trypophobia as it is not a recognized phobia subtype yet. And not much research is done. But as with all specific phobias, there are treatments that work. We will discuss these next.

Trypophobia therapy

Many people with phobias don’t really need treatment, and simply avoiding the object they fear is enough to control the problem. This is easy if you have a phobia for something that you rarely see (like rocks on Jupiter or dinosaurs). But most people have a fear of an object that is a daily occurrence (like spiders). So let’s dive into the different kinds of solutions for treatment!

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is know to work well for phobias. You will talk with your psychiatrist about setting goals and achieving them. There are also great books and workbooks about CBT out there. We recommend The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety: A Step-By-Step Program.

Exposure therapy

You could also try the more hands-on approach of therapies; exposure therapy. Desensitization therapy will be hard and can be very intense at the beginning, but the results are much better long term. The point of exposure therapy is to begin in small doses to be exposed to the thing you have a phobia for, and gradually you will handle it like those without phobias. It is worth looking into. Talk to your psychiatrist about it.

Trypophobia medications

The doctor could prescribe medications. These will be the ones that can treat general anxiety, panic attacks, and sedatives if severe enough (antidepressants called “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs)). It is recommended to avoid medications if your case is not that severe. Either way, talk to your doctor about it, as they know the best.

Self-help home remedies for trypophobia

If you feel you can take on this phobia by yourself, great! These helpful ways of keeping your phobia in-check should be perfect. In time you might even get rid of it completely!

The helpful DIY exposure therapy treatment plan

If you have a less severe case of phobia try it yourself in this step by step helpful guide:

  1. Draw the object you fear on a piece of paper.
  2. Read about the object you fear.
  3. Look at photos of the object you fear.
  4. Watch videos of the object you fear.
  5. Look at the object you fear through a closed window or a safe place.
  6. Then through a partly-opened window, or partly safe place, then open it more and more.
  7. Look at the object you fear from far away in an open space.
  8. Move closer, and closer. Until you are close to the object (this step can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 weeks in some cases).
  9. Have a helper bring the object you fear into a nearby room.
  10. Have the helper bring the object you fear into the same room, while not staying close to the escape door.
  11. Touch the object if possible. (Though this is not needed to succeed, it is highly recommended as a goal to be able to touch it without feeling discomfort. As a final goal, you should have to at least feel comfortable around the object you fear. This might take time, but that is normal.

The goal here is to decrease gradually the amount of anxiety you get from the object you fear. To finally be comfortable around it. And not panicking. As a result, you will feel more and more in control of your fear response.

Relaxation techniques

Play relaxing music. Put on some relaxing songs you like or have white noise in the background when taking a bath or going to bed. It will de-stress you in the long-run and lower the symptoms for anxiety and panic attacks. This helps if you pour yourself some herbal tea (chamomile is the best), and close your eyes once in a while as well. Dream of a nice place, the smell, and sounds. This is the best kind of meditation.

Group therapy

The best way of getting help with a specific phobia is to go to group therapy sessions (combined with counseling with a psychiatrist) That way, you won’t feel alone, and can relate to others. You might even find other and better ways to get rid of your anxiety and phobia.

Helpful books about phobias

If you want to get rid of anxiety and panic attacks all together (as they are the main reason for having a phobia), read “Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks” by Barry McDonagh.

Another smart way to approach the problem with a cure is meditation! Stress reduction is imperative to your health as well! We really recommend this amazing program!

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  • Trypophobia is described on many sites, and these are listed in the reference section on this site. They’re largely non-medical sites as this is such a newly diagnosed disorder.

    WARNING – the following links to other sites contain pictures

    If you’ve landed on this page, I assume you want to cure your fear of holes, and get this trypophobia thing out of your head. The process is reasonably simple, but I am forever grateful of it being pointed out to me.

    Before you cure your trypophobia

    1. Be prepared for several days (or longer) of discomfort, fear, feeling gross, and being very itchy, nauseous and anxious.
    2. Commit to this — do not start then give up as you’ll probably make yourself worse.
    3. Know that you can do this, and it’s worth it.

    Cure your trypophobia – exposure

    Exposure to increasing levels of what you fear has been proved to work on countless phobias. I never believed it could work for me on this one. But, it did! I can’t promise it’ll work on you, but give it a go.

    I followed these simple steps, and I feel a million times better. I can search images all day long, and almost never feel a reaction. Ten days ago, even the words ‘clustered holes’ made me feel nauseous, and made my skin crawl.

    Here’s what I did:

    1. Give yourself some time, preferably about an hour, but at least 20 mins. Sit somewhere where you feel comfortable, relaxed, and calm.
    2. Look at the image linked in step 4 .
    3. Keep looking at the image in step 4. Study it. While you’re looking at it, just try to remain calm and tell yourself it’s just a photoshopped image. It is NOT REAL!
    4. Here is the image of clustered holes — WARNING: trypophobia-inducing
    5. If you feel that you can do, look at some more images for a short time. Click here for images of holes, clusters, and generally gross things on, or just look at Google’s ‘clustered holes’ offering.
    6. Now, congratulate yourself. If you’re anything like me, I know how much courage that just took. Take a breath, and forget about this until later.
    7. Go off and do something nice and try to forget about holes for a while. I know that this is much easier said than done, but try your best.
    8. Repeat steps 1 – 7 once in the evening and once in the morning — try to do it for an hour each time, and start to add in some Youtube videos of trypophobia. This trypophobia test video is good to watch once you’re a few days in. The first few days are hell, but IT WILL GET EASIER!
    9. Please let me know how you’ve done using my contact form.

    It took me about a week or so to get over my fear, and I think my fear was reasonably high. In the past it’s taken me several months to get these images out of my mind (and they never truly left), but now I can actually look at these things and walk away afterwards and forget about them. Heck, I wouldn’t have been able to write this blog a few days ago through being too freaked out. Hopefully you can get over your fear too! Contact me and let me know how you get on.

    Scientists Think They Know What Causes Trypophobia

    Picture a boat hull covered with barnacles, a dried lotus seed pod, milk bubbles on a latte, or a honeycomb. Images of these objects are harmless—unless you’re one of the millions of people suffering from trypophobia. Then they’re likely to induce intense disgust, nausea, and fear, and make your skin crawl.

    Coined fairly recently, the term trypophobia describes the fear of clusters of holes. The phobia isn’t recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but its visibility on the internet suggests that for many, it’s very real. Now, scientists in the UK think they’ve pinpointed the evolutionary mechanism behind the reaction.

    Tom Kupfer of the University of Kent and An T. D. Le of the University of Essex shared their findings in the journal Cognition and Emotion. According to their research, trypophobia evolved as a way to avoid infectious disease. Thousands of years ago, if you saw a person covered in boils or a body covered in flies, a natural aversion to the sight would have helped you avoid catching whatever they had.

    But being disgusted by skin riddled with pathogens or parasites alone doesn’t mean you’re trypophobic; after all, keeping your distance from potential infection is smart. But trypophobia seems to misplace that reaction, as the authors write: “Trypophobia may be an exaggerated and overgeneralized version of this normally adaptive response.”

    Lotus seed pods are a common trigger of trypophobia. Vmenkov, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

    This explanation is not entirely new, but until now little research has been done into whether it’s accurate. To test their hypothesis, the scientists recruited 376 self-described trypophobes from online forums, and another 304 college students who didn’t claim to have the affliction. Both groups were shown two sets of images: The first depicted clusters of circle-shaped marks on animals and human body parts (the “disease-relevant cluster images”); the second showed clusters of holes on inanimate objects like bricks and flower pods (“disease-irrelevant cluster images”). While both groups reported feeling repulsed by the first collection of photographs, only the trypophobes felt the same about the pictures that had nothing to do with infection.

    Another takeaway from the study is that trypophobia is more related to sensations of disgust than fear. This sets it apart from more common phobias like arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or acrophobia (fear of heights). And you don’t have to be trypophobic to be disgusted by a video of Suriname toadlets being born through holes in their mother’s back. We can all be grossed out by that.

    Trypophobia Might Not Be an Actual Phobia, According to Scientists

    If a cluster of small holes makes your stomach turn and your skin crawl, you are not alone.

    You’re one of around 16 percent of people who experience something called trypophobia – the irrational fear of holes. But, some scientists are now saying, maybe it’s not a phobia after all.

    That’s because, well, it might be rational – and rooted in disgust rather than fear.

    Trypophobia is poorly understood, and not recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). So researchers at Emory University set out to study the fear response in relation to clusters of holes.

    But they found that the pupillary response – the involuntary movement of the pupils in the eye – was closer to disgust than the pupillary response to fear.

    “Some people are so intensely bothered by the sight of these objects that they can’t stand to be around them,” explained Stella Lourenco, the Emory University psychologist whose lab conducted the study.

    “The phenomenon, which likely has an evolutionary basis, may be more common than we realise.”

    Previous research conducted in 2013 concluded that the response may be related to the speckled patterns of dangerous animals, such as snakes. But in January 2017, a different explanation was put forward.

    Researchers at the University of Kent proposed that a pattern of holes, like those that can be found in a lotus pod or honeycomb, arouse our aversion because they resemble parasite infestations, infectious diseases, and decomposition.

    “We’re an incredibly visual species,” said lead author of this latest study, Vladislav Ayzenberg. “Low-level visual properties can convey a lot of meaningful information. These visual cues allow us to make immediate inferences – whether we see part of a snake in the grass or a whole snake – and react quickly to potential danger.”

    Using images of dangerous creatures is a common and effective method of gauging fear response, so this formed the core of the team’s research.

    They recruited two batches of students – 41 for the first batch and 44 for the second – and showed them 60 images. Of these, 20 were of dangerous animals such as spiders and snakes; 20 were trypophobia triggers, such as seed pods; and 20 were control images, such as harmless animals, coffee beans, and high-contrast repetitive patterns.

    This last was because trypophobia triggers are often high-contrast repetitive patterns, yet “neutral” images of that nature, such as checkerboard patterns, are not known to elicit a trypophobia response.

    The researchers were expecting that, as has been observed in other tests of this nature, the study participants’ pupils would dilate, or get bigger, as a fear response – and they did. For the dangerous animal pictures.

    But for the trypophobia triggers, the participants’ pupils constricted, or got smaller. And this is the pupillary response to disgust.

    “On the surface, images of threatening animals and clusters of holes both elicit an aversive reaction,” Ayzenberg said. “Our findings, however, suggest that the physiological underpinnings for these reactions are different, even though the general aversion may be rooted in shared visual-spectral properties.”

    The researchers also noted that, rather than the fight-or-flight response that accompanies fear, the disgust response slows the heart rate and breathing – signalling caution, and perhaps trying to minimise exposure to pathogens.

    Although the team’s research ended up with a different conclusion from the 2013 research, they did agree on one key point – that trypophobia may vary in severity, but it’s much more widespread than is self-reported.

    This is because none of the participants reported having it – yet the physical response to pictures of holes was significant.

    “The fact that we found effects in this population suggests a quite primitive and pervasive visual mechanism underlying an aversion to holes,” Lourenco said.

    The research probably won’t help you feel less queasy next time you see a picture of a Surinam toad, but it does indicate that visual processing can result in intense reactions that aren’t fear.

    The team’s research has been published in the journal PeerJ.

    A therapy for Trypophobia: How to cure it.

    Trypophobia is a term used for a symptom where sufferers experience a high aversion towards certain shapes, such as clusters or holes.

    This phobia has gained some unfortunate popularity by a spread of pictures where Lotus pod seed shapes have been photoshopped onto the skin of people, making the skin look infected or diseased. Similar pictures have been made up over the years, sometimes along with compelling stories of the weirdest diseases the sufferers in the picture supposedly have.

    Most people who see the photos have some degree of disgust and will just keep on browsing the Internet. But a minority of people will develop all sort of strange symptoms afterwards, such as an itching of the entire body or the inability of letting the mental images go. The picture will haunt the sufferers for hours if not days, sometimes even leading to a compulsion of “having to see more pictures” that trigger the Trypophobia in the vain hope of experiencing relief by desensitization.

    Common symptoms of Trypophobia are also a queasy feeling in the stomach area, panic attacks, sudden and excessive sweating and actual physical sickness / revulsion.

    The term has not yet found its way into the official diagnostic manuals of psychotherapists, such as the DSM IV (mostly used in the US) or the ICD 10 (commonly used all over Europe.) Yet, it’s only a matter of time until we will find Trypophobia in the medical literature since it’s a symptom that’s very real – and very harmful to its sufferers.

    What causes Trypophobia?

    Two academics from Great Britain (Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins) suspect an ancient, innate biological revulsion that causes Trypophobia. The holes and clusters found with Trypophobia triggering images can also be found with dangerous animals (such as certain reptiles) that could pose some serious harm to our ancestors. Cole and Wilkins think that Trypophobia is a primitive part of the brain associating the pictures we see with something dangerous.

    How can you heal Trypophobia – is there a cure?

    Modern psychotherapy does offer a lot of powerful tools in order to combat isolated phobias, such as Trypophobia. One way to get rid of the phobias is Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy (CBT), in which the process of exposition and desensitization is used in order to defeat the symptom.

    Many therapies commonly used for traumatization can also have a strong effect. And then there’s NLP (neurolinguistic programming) as well as Hypnotherapy – two methods most commonly associated with healing phobias.

    A rather new branch of therapy uses a psychosensory way of dealing with these issues much rather than “just talk”. As practical evidence suggests, these methods can many times not only have a much stronger effect than talk based therapies alone, but will also actually last. The most commonly known ones are EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), TFT (Thought Field Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reintegration Technique). But wait, there’s a new kid on the block …

    Havening: A new way of healing.

    Havening is a revolutionary new therapy that has been developed by genius medical doctor Dr. Ronald Ruden from New York. It is a very simple, yet stunningly effective process that combines touch and therapeutic patterns (such as counting and humming) in a very specific way that enables clients to bust right through many phobias.

    The Havening technique (or Amygdala Depotentiation Technique ADT, as it is referred to in a clinical setting) has been successfully field tested with more than 10.000 clients so far and as the evidence so far suggests may very well be the most effective as well as efficient way to get rid of phobias!

    And the best thing about it is: You don’t have to believe it or book expensive sessions. If you’re suffering from Trypophobia, the following video will walk you through the exact process of doing Self-Havening. If you follow each step closely, Trypophobia may very well be a thing of the past which won’t bother you anymore in the life to come!

    Why does Havening work?

    It may seem like a miracle cure, but has in fact a scientific and explainable background. Havening aims at actually delinking the memory (images of trypophobic triggers) from the emotion (panic, itching, etc. – the aversion you get whenever you see images of trypophobia).

    This has to be done on a neurological level – actual changes in the brain will have to happen. This is done by first focussing on the feeling you want to get rid of (trypophobia, in this case) and afterwards giving strong impulses to the brain that will de-link the symptomatic reaction. One way this is being achieved is by activating different areas of the brain by counting, humming, etc. . Havening uses a very systematic, straightforward process for this that makes it easy to reap the results – all one needs to do is follow instructions closely. Then, there’s the so-called Havening Touch: A process where different areas of the body (such as the head, or the arms) are being touched in a way that will trigger the immediate release of “feeling well hormones” – such as oxytocine and serotonine, for example. This will create the biochemical brain landscape necessary for immediate and lasting change to happen.

    For clients, doing the process is an amazingly simple and enjoyable experience: Most people having experienced Havening report a sense of well-being and relief right away.

    Therapy for Trypophobia: How to do Havening.

    Here’s a Step by Step guide on how to do Havening. Read it first, then watch the video.

    1. Prepare for the session
      Even though this is a video you’re watching on the Internet, it’s still a highly effective therapeutic intervention. Therefore, you should only attempt on using it if you find yourself in the right surroundings, which means: Don’t watch it at work. Make yourself comfortable at home and make sure you won’t be interrupted whilst undergoing the Havening process.
    2. Think about – and set – your goal
      Many sufferers from Trypophobia hope to find a way of not reacting to Trypophobic images anymore at all. This goal is unrealistic since most people react to trypophobia trigger images with some disgust (they are disgusting, after all). The goal is not the absence of any feeling, but the amount of it. A normal reaction would be to feel some disgust (that may even last for a couple of minutes), but – being able to move on and let it go.
      If you expect to not feeling anything at all anymore, you won’t find success. Be crystal clear about your goal: What you want is being able to cope with trypophobic trigger images in a NORMAL way. Feeling disgusted is normal if you see a disgusting image. Getting panic attacks or suffering for hours if not days is NOT.
    3. Start the video
      Therapist and Certified Havening Techniques Practitioner Olf Stoiber will walk you through the Havening process step by step. All you need to do is follow the instructions closely. Most people doing the process will feel a huge relief right away – for some others, the effect will take a few days to set in but grow continually stronger.

    And here’s what is happening during the process:

    1. Focus on the symptomatic feeling
      Close your eyes and think about your phobia for about half a minute. You can either think about trigger images, or you’ll just focus on the sensation and the feeling you would get if you WERE watching a trigger image. Rate the feeling of uneasiness on a scale from 0 (not affecting you at all) to 10 (affecting you in very strong way). Remember that number.
    2. Pause. Open your eyes and distract yourself.
    3. Counting, Visualizing & Havening Touch
      Now, apply the so-called Havening Touch. This will immediately trigger the release of beneficial hormones (such as endorphines and serotonine) in your body that will enable your neurology to actually deconstruct the phobia so former triggers won’t be able to have any effect on you anymore. There’s three different ways of applying Havening Touch:
      1. Arm Havening: Cross your arms and stroke with your hands down from your shoulders to your elbows
      2. Hand Havening: Rub your palms against each other.
      3. Face Havening: Apply the Havening touch to your forehead (starting from the center of your forehead) and your cheeks
        Whilst applying Havening touch, imagine talking a walk on a nice beach, skipping rope or walking up a flight of relaxing stairs whilst counting form 1 to 20 in your own rhythm and pace
    4. Humming
      Now: Hum a melody you like! This will activate a different part of your brain, therefore aiding in the de-linking of the former symptom. Don’t feel shy about it, no body is watching or listening … just hum away, no need to get self conscious about it.
    5. Close your eyes, then open your eyes widely
    6. Look from the very far right to the very far left – and back. Repeat at least five times. This again will stimulate different regions in your brain, assisting in losening the neurological connections causing your Trypophobia.
    7. Now, close your eyes and repeat from step 3 with the Havening Touch and the counting.
    8. Re-scale: On a scale from 0 to 10, where are you right now if you think about the feeling you used to get associated with trypophobia? If 0, stop and celebrate. If still above 0, continue from step 3.

    Repeat until the subjective scale number (0-10) has significantly decreased. For most people, this will happen after one to three rounds max. As soon as you’ve memorized the steps, you can keep your eyes closed while running the process (with exception of step 6 where you will have to open your eyes).

    Trypophobia Therapy Video

    Here’s the video that will guide you through the Havening process. Repeat the steps (Counting 1-> 20, humming, eye movement whilst applying Havening touch) as many times as necessary. The first time, you can keep your eyes open for guidance. As your repeat the process, it’s advisable to close your eyes so you can fully enjoy the benefits of the Havening technique. Feel free to rewind the video if you need any further instructions.

    Now, however, he no longer has the condition. “I’ve become desensitised now – I’ve looked at the images so much,” he says, adding that he did struggle with his research in 2012 and 2013, as he didn’t want to look at the images. Now, through exposure, he has recovered.

    Exposure therapy can be an effective treatment for phobias, according to the NHS website. However, this doesn’t mean jumping in at the deep end and “facing your fears” on an impulse – it’s a much more gradual process.

    “The recommended treatment for phobias is CBT and, in particular, ERP – Exposure and Response Prevention,” says Sheri Jacobson, clinical director at, who has helped people cope with phobias in the past.

    During ERP, a patient with a phobia shares their ultimate worst-case-scenario, which would cause the most distress. This would be number ten on their “Richeter scale”, and the clinician and client would then label all of the smaller steps that lead up to this point. For instance, if you’re scared of birds then your number one might be seeing a photograph of a pigeon, and number ten might be being surrounded by pigeons in a park.

    After you’ve set out the ten scenarios, you work your way through them with the help of your therapist, often tackling one per session. During each session, the therapist gets you to analyse your thoughts, fears and predictions of what will happen. Jacobson says she asks clients to rate their level of distress on a scale of 1-10 during the exposure, and they will stay in the situation until this distress subsides and they feel comfortable.

    Have you ever gotten the heebie-jeebies looking at a zoomed-in picture of a sponge, coral or a beehive? Gross, right?

    All those tiny holes make a lot of people shudder, but for people with trypophobia — an anxiety condition that refers to intense fear or disgust of closely-packed holes — looking at images like these can feel downright impossible.

    If you’ve never heard of trypophobia before, you’re definitely not alone. For those who have heard of it, it might be because model Kendall Jenner opened up about experiencing it in 2016 (“I can’t even look at little holes — it gives me the worst anxiety. Who knows what’s in there???” she wrote in a blog post). Or maybe you saw those horrible posters two years ago for American Horror Story’s seventh season entitled “Cult,” which used trypophobia as a scary plot device.

    Because many people haven’t heard of trypophobia before, we wanted to do a deep dive into what it actually is, what causes it and how you can treat it — so we spoke to three different therapists who specialize in treating anxiety disorders and phobias to fill in the gaps.


    What Is Trypophobia?

    Trypophobia is not officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but like other specific phobias, it’s characterized by intense and irrational fear when presented with a trigger — in this case, tightly-packed holes.

    “Trypophobia is a phobia that involves fear, discomfort or disgust when viewing objects that contain multiple holes that are closely gathered together,” Jameeka Moore, Psy.D., a psychologist who specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety-related disorders, told The Mighty. “Viewing honeycombs, coral, lotus seed pods, strawberries and animals that have spotted fur or skin are examples of things that could trigger this phobia.”

    Below, you can view some examples of images that might make someone with trypophobia uncomfortable. We’ve blurred the first (and last) image so you don’t have to encounter any images of holes unless you choose to.

    Symptoms of Trypophobia

    Though a lot of us might dislike the way closely-packed patterns or holes look, people with trypophobia can experience intense physical manifestations of fear and disgust when they see groupings of holes. According to clinical postdoctoral fellow Samantha Myhre, Ph.D., some common physical symptoms people with trypophobia can experience include:


    • Muscle tension (especially in the face)
    • Nausea
    • Tingling in the skin
    • Goosebumps
    • Heavy breathing
    • Panic attacks
    • Excessive sweating
    • Itchiness

    BuzzFeed staff member Krista Torres, who lives with trypophobia, wrote about the symptoms she experiences when she encounters a visual trigger.

    “I’ve suffered from for as long as I can remember. So, what happens when I see holes? A whole bunch of bad things,” she wrote. “My skin starts to crawl, my stomach turns, I get shortness of breath, and even physically itchy. IT. IS. HORRIBLE.”

    Aside from physical symptoms, one of the tell-tale ways to differentiate a regular fear from a phobia-level fear is to look at the extent to which someone avoids their fear. People with trypophobia may go to extreme lengths to avoid looking at tightly-packed holes. Examples may include avoiding certain foods that contain hole-like patterns (like strawberries) or avoiding locations entirely (for example a house with hole-patterned wallpaper).

    What Causes Trypophobia?

    Though there isn’t a lot of research on trypophobia out there, there are two main theories on why it occurs. In the past, trypophobia was believed to be a subconscious evolutionary response to threatening animals (like snakes or spiders), which may be associated with spotted skin or clustered circular eyes. But recently, research has leaned more toward the belief that trypophobia is probably related to an evolutionary aversion to disease.


    Based on research findings in 2017, psychologists from Emory University argued that trypophobia might not be a fear-based phobia, but instead an intense disgust response. In the study, researchers exposed subjects to images of clustered holes, dangerous animals and neutral objects. Using eye-tracking technology (called pupillometry), they noted changes in the size of each subject’s pupils.

    Pupil dilation corresponds with the body’s fear response, while pupil constriction is more commonly associated with feelings of disgust. Researchers noticed when exposed to images of holes, subjects’ pupils constricted, indicating that trypophobia might be more of a disgust response than fear.

    The researchers noted that both fear and disgust are built-in defensive responses. According to a news release, research authors theorized that reacting in disgust to clusters of holes might be an evolutionary response to avoid contamination and disease, as tightly packed holes may resemble infected skin or rotten or moldy food.

    Regardless of whether trypophobia is an official phobia, disgust response or both, the reality is that some people do experience debilitating anxiety symptoms when they see closely-packed holes and deserve support for what they are experiencing.

    Treatment for Trypophobia

    Phobias seldom go away on their own without treatment, Philip Pierce, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, told The Mighty. If trypophobia is standing in the way of your ability to function on a daily basis, don’t worry — you’re not alone and there is help available.

    Recovering from phobias is extremely likely with proper treatment. According to most clinicians who specialize in treating anxiety disorders, exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) is the gold-standard treatment for phobias.

    ERP is a type of therapy that involves gradually exposing yourself to the trigger that causes you anxiety and resisting the way your anxiety wants you to respond to it. In treatment, an ERP-trained therapist will very slowly lead you through a series of “exposures” designed to gradually acclimate you to your fear so it becomes less anxiety-inducing over time.

    “Exposure therapy for trypophobia would involve a therapist helping you expose yourself to images of or real objects that contain closely-packed holes,” Dr. Myhre told The Mighty, adding:

    Throughout this process, your brain learns it does not need to fire off the alarms and lead to a big reaction in your body . Instead, you learn to tolerate the anxiety or disgust. With repeated exposure, you typically see the intensity of the anxiety or disgust decrease.

    If this kind of therapy sounds scary to you, that’s because it can be! Confronting your fears is never easy, but with the help of a trained therapist who is sensitive to your anxiety, you will go at a pace that feels do-able to you.

    If you’re struggling with trypophobia or another phobia, you deserve to get the help you need. To find a therapist who specializes in ERP, we encourage you to use this therapist finder tool from the International OCD Foundation. To get support from our Mighty community, post a Thought or Question with the hashtag #CheerMeOn. Our community wants to rally around you, no matter what you’re facing today.

    For more on phobias, check out the following stories from our Mighty community:

    • Is Pistanthrophobia Getting in the Way of Your Relationships?
    • The Reality of Emetophobia and How I’m Beating It
    • When You Have a Phobia of Others Hearing Your Voice

    Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

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