Podophobia (Fear of Feet)

Overview

What is podophobia?

Podophobia is an intense fear of feet. “Podos” is the ancient Greek word for feet. Someone with podophobia may experience severe anxiety when they see or think about their own feet or other people’s feet. Their fear might focus on bare feet, but it can also apply to feet covered in shoes and socks.

Podophobia can have a serious effect on a person’s quality of life. Your feet are with you all the time, so if you fear your own feet, you might have a constant sense of worry or panic. If you’re scared of other people’s feet, it can be hard to function at work, in social situations or in public.

Why do I find feet disgusting?

A lot of people think feet are gross. Feet can be smelly or dirty, and you can’t wash them as often as you wash your hands. They can develop fungus or infections. Common foot problems include toenail fungus and athlete’s foot. But it’s important to note that finding feet disgusting isn’t the same as having podophobia. People with podophobia see feet as threatening and potentially harmful.

What is a phobia?

A specific phobia is a severe fear of an object, event or situation. You’re scared of these things even when there’s no real danger. Phobias might seem irrational to others, but they’re very real for the person experiencing the fear. Specific phobic disorders are a type of anxiety disorder.

How common is podophobia?

There’s no data on podophobia specifically, but phobias as a whole are fairly common. Research shows that about 12% of adults and 19% of teenagers in the U.S. have a specific phobic disorder at some point in their lives. Phobias are about twice as common in people designated female at birth (DFAB) as they are in people designated male at birth (DMAB).

Symptoms and Causes

What causes podophobia?

It’s not entirely clear what causes a fear of feet. Podophobia may stem from a variety of factors, including:

  • Family history: Research suggests that genes you inherit from your parents may play a role in phobias. So, having family members with phobias, anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions may make you more likely to have a similar disorder.
  • Other phobias: Some people may have mysophobia (fear of germs) or osmophobia (fear of odors). These conditions can trigger an intense aversion to feet, which some people consider filthy, smelly or unhygienic.
  • Trauma: If you’ve ever had a serious foot injury or witnessed someone with foot trauma or disease, the experience could trigger podophobia. Maybe someone kicked you in the past and now you associate feet with violence, pain or danger.

What are the symptoms of podophobia?

People with podophobia may avoid any situation where they can encounter a lot of feet, especially bare feet. They might stay away from beaches, pools and shoe stores — or find it difficult to wear flip-flops or sandals. They may be scared to touch their own feet or have them touched by someone else. This means it might be hard to wash their feet, trim their toenails and maintain good foot hygiene. The condition might also prompt someone to cover their feet all the time and wear socks 24/7.

Someone with podophobia can also have panic attacks if they see, think or talk about feet. Symptoms of a panic attack can include:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is podophobia diagnosed?

There isn’t a specific test for podophobia. Your healthcare provider will likely ask you questions about your fear of feet, including:

  • How long have you been scared of feet?
  • How often does your fear affect your daily life?
  • What happens when you see or think about feet?

They may diagnose you with podophobia if you:

  • Can’t function at work, school or in social situations due to your fear of feet.
  • Go to great lengths to avoid feet.
  • Have been scared of feet for 6 months or longer.
  • Have panic attacks about feet.

Your healthcare provider will also determine if other mental health disorders may be making your phobia worse, such as:

Management and Treatment

Is there a cure for podophobia?

There isn’t a cure for podophobia, but there are very effective treatments that can help you manage the condition, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of psychotherapy (talk therapy). It helps you change negative attitudes and behaviors about an object you fear. During CBT, you may identify the specific triggers of your foot fear. For instance, are you scared of your own feet or other people’s feet? Do you feel more anxiety when feet are bare or covered? CBT also teaches techniques like deep breathing or meditation to cope with the symptoms of a phobia.
  • Exposure therapy: CBT and exposure therapy often go hand-in-hand. During exposure therapy, and with the help of your therapist, you may look at pictures of feet or at your own feet. Over time, you can practice encountering feet in public situations. This might mean going to a yoga class or getting a pedicure. Most people with specific phobic disorders such as podophobia can overcome their fear with exposure therapy.
  • Medication: Medication hasn’t proven very effective for the long-term management of phobias. It doesn’t treat the underlying source of your fear. But if you have to be around feet, such as going to a shoe store to buy new shoes or attending a family gathering at the beach, anti-anxiety drugs may help you manage symptoms or panic attacks.

Prevention

Is there a way to prevent podophobia?

You can’t prevent podophobia, but you can reduce its negative effects by:

  • Avoiding caffeine, drugs or alcohol, which can make anxiety worse.
  • Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Reaching out to a therapist or other healthcare provider when you need help.
  • Sharing your fears with a support system of friends and family members.

Outlook / Prognosis

What’s the prognosis (outlook) for people with podophobia?

Most people can overcome their phobias with psychotherapy. The amount of time you need to spend in therapy can range from months to years, but you can stop treatment once your symptoms improve. Someone with a phobic disorder may relapse (the phobia returns), which requires additional treatment.

Living With

When should I call the doctor?

Contact your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Difficulty functioning in your daily life due to a fear of feet.
  • Symptoms of a panic attack.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Can other treatments, such as hypnotherapy, help me get to the root of my fear?
  • How can I get over podophobia?
  • How long will I need treatment?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Podophobia is an intense fear of feet. Someone with the condition might be scared of their own feet or other people’s feet. If your fear prevents you from enjoying everyday activities, or if it affects your ability to function at work, school or in social situations, it’s time to get help. Your healthcare provider can guide you to the right treatment for your needs.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/12/2022.

References

  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Specific Phobic Disorders. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/specific-phobic-disorders) Accessed 4/12/2022.
  • National Health Services (NHS). Phobias. (https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias/) Accessed 4/12/2022.
  • Samra CK, Abdijadid S. Specific Phobia. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499923/) [Updated 2021 May 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Accessed 4/12/2022.

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