What Is Fear of Belly Buttons (Omphalophobia)?

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Omphalophobia is an ongoing, intense fear of belly buttons (navels). People with omphalophobia may be afraid of their own or others’ belly buttons. They may go out of their way to avoid situations in which they’ll see belly buttons, such as public swimming pools or beaches. 

Learn more about omphalophobia, including definition, symptoms, causes, and treatment.

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Omphalophobia Defined

The term "omphalophobia" refers to a persistent, overwhelming fear of belly buttons. While omphalophobia itself isn’t a clinical diagnosis, it is a type of specific phobia within the broader category of anxiety disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). 

A specific phobia, which is sometimes called a simple phobia, is an excessive, disproportionate, and ongoing fear of a specific person, activity, thing, place, animal, or situation.

Examples of common specific phobias include claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) and acrophobia (fear of heights). People with specific phobias often know that their fears aren’t grounded in reality, but they are unable to control their intense anxiety.

The five subtypes of specific phobias, according to the DSM-5, are: 

  • Animal type (such as a fear of snakes or spiders)
  • Natural environment type (such as a fear of storms or water)
  • Blood-injection-injury type (such as a fear of medical procedures or shots)
  • Situational type (such as a fear of flying)
  • Other type

The fear of belly buttons is relatively rare and falls into the “other” subtype.


People with omphalophobia feel intense anxiety, fear, and/or distress around belly buttons. Some people with omphalophobia might feel disgusted by belly buttons, while others feel afraid to see or touch them. 

When someone with a specific phobia sees or sometimes even thinks about the source of their fear, they experience symptoms of anxiety and/or panic attacks. These symptoms may include:

  • Feelings of dread or loss of control
  • Chest tightness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Confusion
  • Feeling very hot or very cold
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling faint

Many people with specific phobias to belly buttons will go out of their way to avoid places or situations where they might see belly buttons. For example, people with omphalophobia may go to great lengths to avoid pools, gyms, or beaches. This ongoing avoidance and underlying distress can interfere with major aspects of daily functioning, such as relationships, work, school, and social life.

How Common Are Specific Phobias?

Specific phobias are very common. During the course of their lifetime, an estimated 12.5% of U.S. adults will experience a specific phobia. Within a given year, about 9.1% of American adults meet the criteria for a specific phobia. Specific phobias are less common in men than in women.


To diagnose you with omphalophobia, a healthcare provider such as a mental health professional will ask questions about your medical history, personal history, and current symptoms. Your family and friends may also be helpful in describing your symptoms. Your provider may perform additional tests to rule out any other medical conditions. 

To meet the DSM-5 criteria for a specific phobia, your fear of belly buttons must have caused significant impairments in at least one major area of your life for six months or more. Your symptoms must also not be more easily explained by another mental health disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


The exact cause of omphalophobia is unknown. However, researchers have identified certain risk factors for specific phobias, including:

  • Neurological differences: Certain areas of the brain, such as the amygdala—which is involved in fear and responding to threats—appear to be hyperactive in people with specific phobias.
  • Genetics and family history: Some specific phobias appear to run in families, especially if they begin in childhood. This may be due to genetic influences as well as learned behavior.
  • Trauma: In some cases, specific phobias develop due to past trauma. For example, some people with omphalophobia may have experienced abuse, pain, or a traumatic medical experience involving their belly button.
  • Personality traits: Research suggests that certain personality traits, such as being withdrawn or frequently emotionally distressed, are associated with the development of specific phobias.
  • Comorbid conditions: Many people with specific phobias have additional mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).


Treatment for specific phobias, such as a fear of belly buttons, usually involves individual or group psychotherapy. In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication as well.


Psychotherapy is typically considered the first-line treatment for specific phobias like omphalophobia. Exposure-based therapy is a type of psychotherapy that involves gradually encountering the source of your fear under the supervision of a qualified therapist. 

Research suggests that exposure therapy is most effective when combined with aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help people with specific phobias address the underlying thoughts and beliefs that they associate with the object of their fear.


While medication isn’t always prescribed to treat specific phobias, it may be helpful in some cases. There is some evidence that the following medications can enhance the effects of exposure therapy when prescribed on a short-term basis:

If your fear is especially overwhelming or persistent, your healthcare provider may recommend other medications, such as antianxiety drugs, sedatives, or antidepressants.


In addition to professional treatment, the following self-care steps can help you cope with the symptoms of omphalophobia:

  • Join a support group: Consider joining an in-person or online peer self-help group, where you can meet other people with specific phobias, share resources, and find valuable support.
  • Manage stress: When it comes to effectively managing anxiety symptoms, reducing your overall stress is key. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, and avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine use.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation, may help you learn how to control your anxiety when under pressure.

Seek Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with a phobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


The fear of belly buttons is a specific phobia – a type of anxiety disorder that involves an overwhelming, persistent fear of a particular object, situation, environment, person, or activity. Symptoms of specific phobias in people include anxiety and/or panic attacks when confronted with the source of their fear, as well as taking extreme efforts to avoid it. 

The precise cause of specific phobias is unknown. However, many researchers believe that genetics, environment, personality traits, trauma, differences in brain activity, and/or comorbid mental health disorders play a role. Treatment for specific phobias, such as omphalophobia, typically involves a type of psychotherapy known as exposure therapy. In certain cases, medication may be prescribed as well.

A Word From Verywell

Some people are hesitant to seek treatment for phobias like a fear of belly buttons. However, you’re not alone, and there’s no reason to feel ashamed. If you are dealing with symptoms of omphalophobia or any other specific phobia or anxiety disorder, talk to a healthcare provider to discuss your treatment options.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with particular interests in mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. She has published work in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Week, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, Catapult, Pacific Standard, Health.com, Insider, Forbes.com, TalkPoverty, and many other outlets.