What Is Trypophobia?

  • Leanne ChengBachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery - MBBS, Medicine, Imperial College London

Trypophobia, also known as the fear or repulsion of clustered patterns consisting of small holes and bumps, can be quite scary and complicated. Some of the most common patterns feared by people affected by trypophobia include honeycombs and sponges. Many studies have suggested that the prevalence of trypophobia is 17.6% of the population, meaning roughly 1 in 6 people.1

Whilst trypophobia itself may not seem very dangerous for the affected person, it is associated with many mental health risks and cardiovascular and skin-related problems. Therefore the best way to tackle it or help someone with trypophobia is to have a better understanding of their fear.2 This article will explore what trypophobia is precisely, the typical reactions and symptoms and coping strategies. 

What is trypophobia: understanding the fear of patterns

Trypophobia, pronounced tri-puh-foe-bee-uh, is a condition affecting people who are repulsed by patterns consisting of clusters of holes and bumps. The word trypophobia was made in 2005 and comes from the Greek word “trypa” meaning drills and holes combined with the word “phobos” meaning fear of something.3

However, it is important to understand that people affected by trypophobia are not necessarily afraid of holes, but could be merely disgusted and repulsed by the clustered holes due to their close resemblance with venomous organisms. Because of this, trypophobia is currently not officially recognised as a mental disorder. To test if you have trypophobia, it is relatively simple and only need to look at specific images showing clusters of holes.4

Common reactions and symptoms

Although trypophobia refers to the repulsion of patterns it is also related to other reactions and symptoms due to the visual discomfort experienced. Some of the most common reactions and symptoms associated with trypophobia include:2

  • Elevated heart rate and variability
  • Pupillary constriction
  • Haemodynamic response2
  • Negative emotions including fear, anger and anxiety
  • Sweating, nausea, choking and trembling 
  • Negative effects on Mental health including depression and anxiety1 

The science behind trypophobia

Many people believe that trypophobia is an intense fear of holes or more precisely the fear of the clustered patterns. However, this is not the case and the majority of people suffering from trypophobia are repulsed or disgusted by the patterns. Most venomous organisms including snakes or hornet nests are made from similar clusters of patterns.

Furthermore, there is also a “survival of the fittest” hypothesis where trypophobia may be inherited from ancestors. If previous ancestors had a fear of dangerous animals including snakes, crocodiles, spiders and insects, they would have done their best to avoid them, hence protecting themselves. These traits may have been passed down to generations.5

Therefore for various reasons, upon visualising clustered patterns, some people will automatically associate them with danger and exhibit symptoms associated with fear. One cohort study investigated trypophobia and found that there was a strong correlation between trypophobia and having learnt what venomous objects look like and do. This means that the phobia is associated with learning about venomous organisms meaning that if a person does not know what a hornet’s nest looks like, they are unlikely to experience trypophobia.4

Triggers and impact

In general, visualisations consisting of holes and clustered patterns can easily trigger people who suffer from trypophobia. Many triggers can cause a reaction. However, it is important to know that triggers are different for everyone and cause various degrees of severity ranging from slight discomfort to panic attacks.1

Depending on the degrees of severity, the triggers also vary depending on the person. Some of the most common triggers of everyday objects include honeycombs, hair follicles, sponges, strawberries and pomegranates. However, some people will only have a reaction to trypophobia to more exotic or unusual images including coral reefs and lotus seed pods.1

To understand more about the degree of severity and triggers, several online quizzes can be taken. However, in some cases, it is advisable to consult a healthcare potential who will be able to guide you through any hardships and suggest coping methods and strategies. 

Misconceptions of trypophobia

It is important to be aware that trypophobia is not officially recognised as a phobia by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), since trypophobia is associated with disgust and not a fear itself. Therefore, there are many other misconceptions of tryphobia, mostly due to the phobia not having been studied in sufficient detail.1 One of the biggest misconceptions on the internet is the images used to describe trypophobia triggers.

It is very important to understand that tryphobia triggers are usually clusters of holes or patterns. Therefore certain images of single circles or no patterns are not necessarily triggers. Due to this misconception, if self-diagnosing at home using multiple quizzes, it is important to be aware of this. The best advice is always to consult a healthcare professional who will be able to guide you through difficult times and suggest coping and management.6

Coping strategies and management

Dealing with trypophobia can be hard and cause a severe disruption to lifestyle, especially when affected by severe triggers including panic attacks, anxiety and changes in heart rate. Therefore, the best way to deal with this is to try different coping techniques, seek professional help and build an understanding environment.

Coping strategies

Many coping techniques may help subside some of the side effects that come with trypophobia. The most common ones include:

  • Exposure therapy

One of the key things people with trypophobia usually experience is a disruption to their lifestyle, therefore exposure therapy can be beneficial. Exposure therapy is one of the most widely accepted therapies for many different phobias as it focuses on being exposed to images that trigger a tryphobic reaction. This can be done alone or with the help of a therapist or a friend. With time, you or the person suffering from trypophobia will slowly be able to look at the most threatening triggers and be able to overcome them.6

  • Relaxation exercises

Trypophobia can cause anxiety, therefore one way of coping is to do relaxation techniques including Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). This technique reduces stress and anxiety by allowing you to be brave and face the phobia.6 

Other coping strategies can help with trypophobia by helping the person relax and manage their anxiety. The most common effective methods include yoga, massages, and sports.

Seeking professional help

Whilst the therapies above can be effective, it is always advisable to seek professional help from a therapist or a mental health professional, especially if trypophobia significantly impacts your daily life. Various therapy options can be effective such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy which is advisable to be done with a professional.6

Building understanding and support

One of the key things about dealing with trypophobia can be the feeling of loneliness or feeling isolated from everyone else. Therefore it is essential to build a close support group that can help with your daily life. Alternatively, if you do know someone who suffers from trypophobia it is essential to support those individuals and exhibit empathy. By ensuring and creating a safe environment for the individual to be able to talk about their fears.6

Nevertheless, it is always reassuring to let the individual who is suffering from trypophobia know that they are not alone and thatmany other people also suffer from this phobia. There is currently a Facebook group called Trypophobia: Fear of Clusters of Holes comprised of over fourteen thousand individuals who know exactly what is it like to live with trypophobia.6


To summarise, the word trypophobia means the fear of holes. However, this is not necessarily true as trypophobia is more of a disgust of clustered patterns comprised of holes due to their close resemblance to venomous animals including snakes, hornet nests and crocodiles. It can be very challenging to live with trypophobia as it can have severe impacts on quality of life and cause panic attacks, anxiety, elevated blood pressure and heart rate.

To be able to know if you or someone you know suffers from trypophobia, several online quizzes can be undertaken to assess if you have trypophobia after looking at certain images. Whilst living with trypophobia is not easy, certain coping strategies can make life a lot easier. Nevertheless, it is always advisable to speak with a mental help professional who can guide you and talk about how to deal with trypophobia. It is also important to have a good support group and by relying on friends or family.


  1. Wong SMY, Tang EYH, Hui CLM, Suen YN, Chan SKW, Lee EHM, et al. Excessive fear of clusters of holes, its interaction with stressful life events and the association with anxiety and depressive symptoms: large epidemiological study of young people in Hong Kong. BJPsych Open. 2023;9(5): e151. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjo.2023.540 .
  2. Le A, Cole GG, Wilkins A. Trypophobia: Heart rate, heart rate variability and cortical haemodynamic response. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2020;274: 1147–1151. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.06.002 .
  3. Martínez-Aguayo JC, Lanfranco RC, Arancibia M, Sepúlveda E, Madrid E. Trypophobia: what do we know so far? A case report and comprehensive review of the literature. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2018;9: 15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00015 .
  4. Can W, Zhuoran Z, Zheng J. Is trypophobia a phobia? Psychological Reports. 2017;120(2): 206–218. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033294116687298 .
  5. Chaya K, Xue Y, Uto Y, Yao Q, Yamada Y. Fear of eyes: triadic relation among social anxiety, trypophobia, and discomfort for eye cluster. PeerJ. 2016;4: e1942. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1942 .
  6. What is trypophobia? Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/trypophobia-101-beginners-guide/ [Accessed 24th August 2023].
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Maariya Rachid Daud

MSc Molecular biotechnology, University of Birmingham

Hi, my name is Maariya and I am currently a student at the Univeristy of Birmingham studying a masters in molecular biotechnology. I love reading and writing articles about a wide range of topics with the hope of allowing everyone to learn how to live a healthier happier life. I especially enjoy writing articles that are targeted to people with non-scientific backgrounds giving everyone the opportunity to learn more about biology. I really hope that you find all my articles interesting and insightful.

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