Fear of Cotton Balls – Sidonglobophobia

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In the early days of Maury, talk show host Maury Povich brought on a wide variety of guests. Serial cheaters, married siblings, and a woman who found out her partner was cheating because she found a tooth in her bed have all been on the show. One of the most memorable moments was a woman who had a fear of cotton balls. 

That’s right - the guest was terrified of cotton and cotton balls after a traumatic time in the hospital as a young child. A show producer walked out on stage with a pile full of cotton balls, sending the woman screaming, crying, and running backstage. 

People may have laughed at this woman, but the fear of cotton balls is actually no laughing matter. This fear, also known as sidonglobophobia, does affect people. If you have ever had any questions about sidonglobophobia, you can probably find the answers here. 

What Is Sidonglobophobia? 

Sidonglobophobia, or bambakophobia, is the fear of cotton balls or cotton. It is a rare, specific phobia that typically affects people who have undergone a traumatic childhood experience. In some cases, sidonglobophobia is actually considered to be a sensory processing disorder.

People with sidonglobophobia can live happy, successful lives. Rumor has it that Michael Jackson experienced sidonglobophobia!

Where Does the Term “Sidonglobophobia” Come From? 

Most phobias aren’t made up of nonsensical words. “Phobia” is actually derived from the Ancient Greek word phóbos, which means “fear.” Arachnophobia, for example, is the fear of arachnids. (Arachnids are an umbrella term for spiders, scorpions, and anything that falls under the class Arachnida.)

Globus is the Latin word for “sphere.” (Think about the word “globe.” How is a globe shaped?) The term “globophobia” actually describes the fear of balloons. Sidonglophobia describes another fear of a sphere-shaped item. 

Another term for sidonglobophobia is bambakophobia. Bambaki is the Greek word for cotton. 

What About Cotton Scares People?

For some, the sight of cotton can trigger this extreme discomfort or fear. Other people specifically link their symptoms to the touch of cotton against their skin. The sound of cotton balls (yes, cotton can have a sound!) may also set off certain symptoms. 

This may occur when a person is around cotton swabs, cotton balls, or the cotton found in many bottles of medication. 

Sight, touch, and sound are three of our five senses. Sidonglobophobia, to some, isn’t fear like one might experience when thinking about clowns or dangerous objects. For some, sidonglobophobia is a sensory processing issue. 

What Are Sensory Processing Issues? 

Our brains go through a lot before we recognize the soft touch of a blanket, the sweet sounds of birdsong, or the salty taste of French fries. Light, sound waves, and other sensations must be converted into electrical signals and sent from sensory receptors up to the brain to be processed. These signals even travel through separate parts of the brain: light, for example, travels through the brainstem to the thalamus and then to the visual cortex

People with a sensory processing disorder, or SPD, process certain things differently than others. Somewhere along the way, sensory information is either dropped, not converted properly, or becomes overwhelming for the brain. Touching certain things may be insufferable, “quiet” noises may disrupt the person’s ears, or light may be uncomfortably bright. 

This isn’t always the cause of sidonglobophobia, but some experts believe it can explain why the “sound” or feel of cotton is too much for some people to handle. 

What Causes Sidonglobophobia?

When you hear the woman on Maury talk about her experience with cotton, you understand why she has developed such intense fear. The woman was in a traumatic accident as a very young child. For two years, the accident left her in a full-body cast. Instead of removing or replacing the cast, doctors at the time simply removed and replaced the cotton within the cast. Many years later, the trauma stuck with her. 

Traumatic Experiences 

Even though the woman on Maury had survived the accident for more than 30 years, the sight, sound, or touch of cotton balls brought her back to that traumatic time. That’s the impact that trauma can have on our physical and emotional well-being. One event, lasting no more than a few minutes, can affect us for years. So think of how the trauma of being in a full-body cast for two years, during critical development, must have affected this woman. 

Observational Learning

Specific phobias may also be developed through observational learning. Psychologists discovered the impact of observational learning after Albert Bandura’s infamous Bobo Doll experiment. If a young child sees another child or family member fear something, they may also grow to fear it, too. One writer with sidonglobophobia shares that their older sister also has the same fear of cotton balls. Could the writer have developed their fear by observing their older sister? It’s possible! 

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Sensory processing issues are not learned through observation or traumatic experiences. Experts are not exactly sure what causes sensory processing issues or sensory processing disorders, but they believe genetics may play a role. 

Sidonglobophobia Symptoms

What happens when a person with a fear of cotton balls sees, hears, or thinks about cotton balls? They might experience the following symptoms: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Panic attacks or high levels of anxiety
  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting

This can lead to some people avoiding medication for fear of the cotton at the top of the bottle. Others may not wear cotton clothing. The intensity at which people experience sidonglobophobia varies. 

How Rare is Sidonglobophobia? 

Even if you have a fear of cotton balls, you likely do not know anyone with a fear of cotton balls. The truth is, this fear is pretty unusual. Having a specific fear, whether it’s cotton balls or ghosts or balloons, isn’t unusual. An estimated 19 million Americans have a specific phobia. How many of these 19 million people are specifically afraid of cotton balls? It’s hard to tell. 

Is There a Diagnosis For a Fear of Cotton Balls? 

Not exactly. If you look through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5), you will find a long list of mental health conditions and disorders. Sidonglobophobia is not one of them. However, if a person with sidonglobophobia meets the criteria for a “specific phobia,” they may receive that diagnosis instead: 

  • Marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation 
  • The phobic object or situation almost always provokes immediate fear or anxiety.
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the specific object or situation and to the socio-cultural context.
  • The phobic object or situation is actively avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
  • The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, including fear, anxiety, and avoidance of situations associated with panic-like symptoms or other incapacitating symptoms (as in agoraphobia); objects or situations related to obsessions (as in obsessive-compulsive disorder); reminders of traumatic events (as in posttraumatic stress disorder); separation from home or attachment figures (as in separation anxiety disorder); or social situations (as in social anxiety disorder).

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) does not appear in the DSM-5. However, The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM) includes a diagnosis for Sensory integration disorder. 

Other Strange Phobias 

The fear of cotton balls is one of the strangest phobias that most people have ever heard of, but it’s not the only strange fear out there! Take a look at some other specific phobias: 

  • Globophobia - fear of balloons
  • Cacophobia - fear of ugliness
  • Xanthophobia -fear of the color yellow
  • Plutophobia - fear of money
  • Ephebiphobia - fear of the youth

All of these phobias may be diagnosed as a “specific phobia” if they meet the criteria in the DSM-5. 

Treating Sidonglobophobia 

People with sidonglobophobia usually have experienced an aversion to cotton balls for most of their lives. This doesn’t mean they have to go through the rest of their life avoiding cotton. A mental health professional can help address a person’s symptoms and find treatment plans for a more successful, happy life. 

One treatment option may be exposure therapy. Exposure therapy can happen slowly (through systematic desensitization) or all at once (flooding therapy.) The right treatment plan depends on the individual and their experience with their phobia. A person who has sensory processing issues, for example, will not fare well with flooding therapy. 

If traumatic experiences were involved in the development of sidonglobophobia, various forms of trauma-focused therapy can get to the root of the person’s experience. Most of these therapies fall under the umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. 

If you experience sidonglobophobia, a fear of cotton, or any other “strange” phobia, know that you are not alone. Help is available through a mental health professional. You can overcome your fear of cotton balls!

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, May). Fear of Cotton Balls - Sidonglobophobia. Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/fear-of-cotton-balls-sidonglobophobia/.

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