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Ommetaphobia: The fear of eyes

person with ommetaphobia covering one of their eyes with their hands

What is ommetaphobia?

Ommetaphobia is the extreme fear of eyes. Everyday situations such as making eye contact, being looked at, seeing images of eyes or even thinking of eyes can activate a fear response. It is a specific phobia — an overwhelming or irrational fear of a being or situation that poses little actual threat.

Specific phobias like ommetaphobia can be connected to anxiety disorders. Some people with ommetaphobia may go out of their way to avoid places or situations in which eyes are involved. This may prevent anxiety in the short term, but it could also worsen the phobia in the long run.

Symptoms of ommetaphobia

Symptoms of ommetaphobia primarily occur when an affected individual is faced with their trigger. The symptoms may present themselves physically as:

  • Anxiety, fear or panic

  • Sweating

  • Muscle tension and shakiness

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Panic attacks

The symptoms of ommetaphobia can be more than physical. People with this phobia may also struggle with:

  • Social isolation

  • Mood disorders

  • Substance abuse

Ommetaphobia causes

As with many phobias, there is no definitive or direct cause of ommetaphobia. Possible causes may include:

  • A negative experience with eyes

  • A genetic predisposition to anxiety

  • Changes in brain functions

  • Learned behavior from a relative or other close individual

There may be no definitive cause. But most mental health professionals agree that genetics and environment factor into ommetaphobia.

Possible risk factors for developing ommetaphobia also include:

  • An individual’s age. Specific phobias like ommetaphobia usually occur by age 10, but can also form later in life.

  • An individual’s temperament. The risk of developing a phobia may be higher if someone is more sensitive, withdrawn or easily discouraged than most.

  • Learning of another’s uncomfortable experience with eyes. Hearing scary stories or disturbing information about the eyes can lead one to develop ommetaphobia.

Ommetaphobia treatment and management

As ommetaphobia is a specific phobia, treatment options are focused primarily in the form of psychotherapy.

Therapeutic phobia treatments aim to limit the effects that ommetaphobia has on the patient’s daily life. These treatments teach the individual how to better manage and interpret their responses to their fear and daily state of mind. As a result, the individual learns to be in better control of their anxiety and fear instead of being controlled by them.

There are two favored methods of treatment for phobias. Due to the nature of phobias, these treatments are normally recommended according to the individual. 

Treatments include:

  • Exposure therapy (ET). ET exposes the patient to the source of the individual’s phobia gradually and recurringly. The exposure usually starts small, such as being asked to think about eyes. It works its way up from there to familiarize the individual with the object of their fear. This is generally considered the best form of treatment.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on developing a sense of control over your fear and anxiety instead of feeling overwhelmed by them. It combines exposure with other techniques to teach an individual new ways of perceiving and dealing with their phobia.

Along with the psychotherapy treatments above, a doctor may also prescribe medications. These medications are usually just for the initial stages of treatment. They may also be recommended for uncommon or occasional situations. 

The types of medication used for phobias are:

  • Sedatives. These reduce the amount of stress and anxiety an individual feels. But sedatives like this can be addictive and should be avoided if the individual has a history of substance abuse.

  • Beta blockers. These block the effects of certain hormones. One example is adrenaline, which can overstimulate heart rate and blood pressure. This reduces the effects of anxiety and fear, such as shaky muscles and heart palpitations.

  • Antidepressants. These drugs can be prescribed to reduce anxiety. Antidepressants are usually taken daily. They can also lower daily anxiety as well as prevent some panic attacks.

SEE RELATED: How depression changes your vision and makes the world look hazy

Therapy and prescribed medications are likely the surest way to overcome ommetaphobia. But the affected individual can also take their own steps to cope with their fear. 

Some coping solutions may include:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is group treatment for people who struggle with regulating their emotions. The main benefit of DBT is the variety of coping skills shared and learned among the DBT group participants.

  • Meditation/mindfulness training. The goal of meditation and mindfulness training is to help an individual learn to calm their thoughts and better cope in stressful situations.

  • Exercise. Studies have shown exercise, specifically cardiovascular exercise, can provide stress relief. This is because exercise is essentially a way of applying controlled stress to the body. This allows the person’s body to grow more accustomed to stress in general.

  • Yoga. Yoga essentially brings exercise and meditation together. Yoga can help relieve stress and anxiety for many of the same reasons listed above.

SEE RELATED: How stress can affect your vision

Ommetaphobia, like many phobias, is irrational. Many individuals with ommetaphobia likely already acknowledge this. This does not make the effects ommetaphobia has on their lives any less real. It also doesn’t mean that the phobia can’t be treated.

Avoiding contact with or imagining eyes and eye contact will only work in the short term. If you or someone you care about shows signs of ommetaphobia, talk to a mental health professional for treatment and advice.

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