Coping With the Fear of Hair

Do you get creeped out or stressed when you find loose hair that has fallen on your shirt or chair? If so, you might have what is known as trichophobia, which is an excessive and persistent fear of hair. This can include fear of hair on the head, but it often involves touching or seeing loose hairs that have fallen on to clothing, the body, furniture, or another surface. A brush covered in loose hairs, for example, might trigger feelings of fear and anxiety.

While trichophobia is not a distinct condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), its symptoms may meet the diagnostic criteria for a specific phobia. A specific phobia is an intense and irrational fear of a specific object or situation.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 12.5% of adults in the United States will have a specific phobia at some point in their lives. 

Causes, Triggers, & Risk Factors

As with other specific phobias, the exact causes of trichophobia are not entirely understood, although it is believed that several factors may play a role.

Fear of disease or contamination may contribute to the condition, particularly if the focus of the fear is the sensation or sight of loose hair on the skin. The belief that hair is a contaminant may cause people to become fearful of seeing loose hair. People may even clean obsessively in order to remove any loose hair that has fallen onto surfaces around the home.

Trichophobia may also contribute to or exacerbate a condition known as trichotillomania. This disorder is characterized by hair loss caused by pulling or putting pressure on the hair. People with trichophobia may believe that the roots of their own hair contain foreign entities that can only be removed by pulling the hair out. In this case, the phobia involves the fear of hair that is still attached to the head or body.

Other risk factors that may contribute to the development of specific phobias such as trichophobia include:

  • Experience: Following an upsetting experience, a person might develop an association between a specific object and feelings of panic.
  • Modeling: Another theory suggests that specific phobias may form after a person observed others exhibit phobic reactions in response to a specific object.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors may play a contributing role in the development of phobias. Research has shown that genetic factors play a significant role in the development of the blood/injury/injection subtype of phobias, which are often associated with a fear of disease, illness, or contamination.

Trichophobia Symptoms

The symptoms of trichophobia are different for each person and vary in terms of severity. As with other phobias, people experience both physical and emotional reactions in response to the source of their fears.

Physical symptoms of trichophobia include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing

Emotional symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of disgust or squeamishness at the sight of hair
  • Extreme anxiety or panic
  • A sense of dread
  • Feeling powerless and out of control
  • A need to escape
  • A sense of impending doom
  • Feelings of unreality
  • A sense that death may be imminent

Avoidance is another common symptom of specific phobias. People with trichophobia may try to avoid encountering loose hair or clumps of hair by cleaning excessively. In some instances, people may even experience a panic attack when they are faced with the source of their fear.

A panic attack is characterized by the sudden onset of extreme anxiety. People may feel like they cannot breathe, experience the feeling that they are choking, and may even fear that they are dying.

Diagnosis

Based on the symptoms described above, you may be able to determine if you have trichophobia. If your symptoms are mild, you might feel like the condition is manageable. For more severe symptoms that are interfering with your ability to function normally in your daily life, it is important to talk to your doctor.

While trichophobia is not formally recognized by the DSM-5 as a separate condition, your doctor may diagnose you with a specific phobia based upon your symptoms. The diagnostic criteria for specific phobias are: 

  • Unreasonable, excessive fear 
  • Immediate anxiety response to the source of the fear (in this case, hair) 
  • Avoidance of the object or extreme distress when it is encountered 
  • A significant impact on the individual's life and ability to function  

Diagnosis also requires the symptoms to have been present for at least six months and not be caused by another condition. For example, the symptoms must not be better explained by another condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An individual with OCD, for example, may view loose hair as messy or disorderly, which might trigger symptoms of anxiety and a need to clean or eliminate the sources of that distress.

Trichophobia Treatment

If you have been diagnosed with trichophobia there are effective treatments that can help.

Exposure therapies, including systematic desensitization, are the first-line treatments for specific phobias. This approach involves being gradually and repeatedly exposed to the source of your fear while also practicing relaxation strategies to help manage the anxiety response.

For trichophobia, you might begin by learning and practicing a number of relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Once you have learned these, you might start by just imagining yourself near loose hair while practicing those relaxation strategies.

Next, you might move on to a photograph of loose hair before progressively working up to actually seeing loose hair or actually having it on your skin or clothing. Over time, pairing the relaxation response with the source of your fear can help you learn to manage your anxiety whenever you encounter the feared object.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be helpful to address the underlying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can contribute to phobic reactions.

While medications are not usually indicated in the treatment of specific phobias, they may sometimes be used in conjunction with behavioral treatments to manage some of the symptoms of anxiety.

Complications

Like other specific phobias, trichophobia can have a significant impact on an individual's daily life. Some of the potential complications that a person might face as a result of their condition include:

  • Isolation and loneliness: People sometimes go to great lengths to avoid the source of their fear. With trichophobia, this might involve avoiding places where loose hair is common, such as a hair salon. In other instances, people may become so fearful of having a panic attack that they might even become unable to go to work, school, or other social events. 
  • Substance misuse: People with symptoms of trichophobia may be more likely to try to control their anxiety with alcohol or other substances.
  • Other disorders: It is not uncommon for a person to experience comorbid conditions such as anxiety or depression. Trichophobia may also occur alongside other disorders such as OCD or trichotillomania. 

Prognosis & Prevention

Exposure therapy has been empirically validated as an effective treatment for specific phobias such as trichophobia. Research has shown that 90% of people who receive exposure therapy treatment experience significant reductions in fear and avoidance and 65% no longer have a specific phobia post-treatment.

While there is no way to eliminate all of the risk factors for trichophobia, early intervention and treatment can be helpful. Parents and other family members who have this or another phobia can minimize the risk of modeling phobic behaviors by getting treatment.

Coping Tips

If you have symptoms of trichophobia, there are things that you can do to cope with your fears and manage your anxieties.

Learn relaxation techniques. Using some of the same strategies that are utilized in exposure therapies may be helpful. Explore methods like visualization, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. When you feel yourself experiencing symptoms of anxiety in response to the sight of hair, use the techniques you have been practicing to relax your body and mind.

Take care of yourself. Sticking to healthy routines like getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting regular physical activity is important for overall well-being. When you feel well, you will likely be better able to manage your anxiety effectively.

Practice facing your fears. You might begin by just imaging the hair or looking at images of loose hair online. Over time, gradually exposing yourself to your fears may help you better manage your feelings of anxiety. 

If the symptoms of trichophobia are seriously impacting your life and making it difficult for you to function normally, it is important to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about what you are feeling. Together, you can work on a treatment plan that will get you back on track.

Trichophobia can cause symptoms that can significantly affect many different aspects of your life, including your ability to work, attend school, and maintain relationships. Fortunately, effective treatments can reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of this condition.

You can also call the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) at 1-800-950-6264 for further resources and referrals to mental health professionals in your area.

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Article Sources
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