Trypophobia brings on feelings of disgust or fear when you see patterns with lots of holes. Sunflowers, honeycombs, sponges and seedy fruits can cause this response. Trypophobia is a type of anxiety disorder. Most people don’t have a true fear of holes. Exposure therapy may help you manage repulsions to holey patterns.


What is trypophobia?

Trypophobia (trip-uh-FOE-bee-uh) is an aversion or repulsion to objects like honeycombs and sponges that have repetitive patterns or clusters of small holes. People with trypophobia are disgusted by the pattern of holes. They don’t necessarily have a fear of holes.


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What are trypophobia triggers?

A person is more likely to have an adverse reaction to a holey object or image the closer they are to it. Trypophobia triggers may include:

  • Bread and bagels with seeds.
  • Cheese with holes.
  • Fruits with small seeds like strawberries, raspberries, papaya and kiwi.
  • Honeycombs, sunflowers and lotus seed pods.
  • Insects and bees.
  • Skin on snakes, lizards, frogs and other reptiles.
  • Soles of shoes.
  • Sponges.

How common is trypophobia?

Some studies suggest that as many as 17% of children and adults (about one in six people) have some degree of trypophobia. It’s a fairly new disorder first named in 2005.

More people became aware of trypophobia after news stories reported that people reacted negatively to clusters of tiny camera lenses on certain smartphones. In addition, the TV show “American Horror Story: Cult” featured a character who had trypophobia. The show included triggering images that repulsed some viewers and increased awareness of the phobia.


Symptoms and Causes

What causes trypophobia?

Experts don’t know why some people develop trypophobia. One theory is that the brain associates clusters of holes with danger. For example, you may associate a pattern of small holes with the skin of a venomous snake or the eyes of a tarantula. Or the holes may remind you of skin diseases or skin rashes.

Another theory is that your brain uses more energy and oxygen to process holey patterns, triggering feelings of distress. It may also be a feature of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

How do you get trypophobia?

Trypophobia affects more females than males. You may be more prone to trypophobia if you have:


What are trypophobia symptoms?

Trypophobia can cause:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is trypophobia diagnosed?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) doesn’t recognize trypophobia as a disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This may be because the condition is often uncomfortable but not debilitating. Because it’s not recognized as a disorder, there aren’t established criteria for diagnosing it. However, there is a trypophobia test.

Completing the online trypophobia test (which is solely for research purposes) may help determine whether you have this aversion. The test doesn’t collect your personal information. Your participation is anonymous.

The trypophobia test:

  • Displays a variety of images for one to eight seconds each. Some of the images have patterns or clusters of holes, while some do not.
  • Asks you to estimate how long you saw each image.
  • Compares your estimates for viewing trypophobic images and neutral images (those without holes) and gives you a ratio at the end of the test.

A ratio higher than two may indicate trypophobia. You may want to talk to a mental health professional like a psychologist about the test findings and your adverse reactions to holey patterns.

Management and Treatment

Is there a trypophobia cure?

If trypophobia affects your ability to engage in certain activities or enjoy life, you may benefit from exposure therapy. This therapy gradually exposes you to trypophobia triggers, helping you to manage your reactions. This type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) helps as many as nine in 10 people overcome specific phobic disorders.

During exposure therapy, your healthcare provider:

  • Teaches you breathing and relaxation techniques to use before and during exposures.
  • Shows you images or videos of clusters or patterns of holes while helping you manage your response.
  • Gradually expands the exposures until you are touching or holding something with a holey pattern, like a sponge.

You may also get cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy helps change your perceptions and responses to situations that trigger trypophobia.

Anti-anxiety medications generally don’t help people with specific phobic disorders. If you know you’ll be in a situation that might trigger a reaction, your provider may prescribe anti-anxiety medicine for short-term help.

What are the complications of trypophobia?

In extreme situations, trypophobia may affect your ability to work, go to school or socialize. You may experience:


Can you prevent trypophobia?

Relaxation techniques like meditation, mindfulness or visualizing soothing images may help you avoid feelings of trypophobia.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have trypophobia?

Most people who complete exposure therapy see improvements in their symptoms. Once you have a handle on trypophobia triggers, you can use breathing or relaxation methods to manage your body’s reactions.

Living With

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Depression, anxiety or OCD.
  • Extreme irritability.
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What causes trypophobia?
  • What is the best treatment for me?
  • Should I try exposure therapy?
  • How long will I need therapy?
  • Should I watch for signs of complications?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Trypophobia refers to disgust or fear of a pattern of holes. Seeing clusters of holes in foods, flowers and everyday items like sponges can trigger feelings of revulsion. Trypophobia is gaining recognition as an anxiety problem that can affect quality of life. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your healthcare provider if you think you have trypophobia. (You can take the trypophobia test to find out.) If needed, your provider can connect you with a mental health professional who may use exposure therapy to help you overcome this issue.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/11/2021.

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