What Is Emetophobia?

The Fear of Vomiting

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Emetophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of vomiting. This is a rare condition that may affect only about 0.1% of the population. While this condition may be an unlikely one to have, it may be important to recognize the signs and symptoms of emetophobia and the way it may affect your day-to-day life.

Vomit

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Definition

Emetophobia is an intense and irrational fear of vomiting. People with emetophobia may fear vomiting themselves or they may also fear feeling nauseous or witnessing someone else vomiting.

Those with emetophobia may go out of their way to avoid activities or situations that may result in vomiting, such as drinking alcohol or taking public transit (to avoid motion sickness).

Emetophobia is a specific phobia. This is a kind of psychological disorder that involves a persistent and significant fear of a specific object, circumstance, or activity.

Specific phobias are categorized into five subtypes, and emetophobia falls into the "other type" subcategory. This means it doesn't qualify for any of the main categories, which include animal, natural environment, blood-injection-injury, or situational phobias.

Symptoms

Emetophobia may present as a variety of symptoms and certain behaviors.

These may include avoiding the following:

  • Food not considered "safe"
  • Medications that may list nausea as a potential side effect
  • Eating in public
  • Eating too quickly
  • Eating late in the day
  • Social activities
  • Places that may contain lots of alcohol, like parties and bars
  • Pregnancy
  • Bathrooms
  • Gyms
  • Travel, flying, public transport, or crowded places
  • People who may look unwell

People with emetophobia may experience a range of physical symptoms including panic attacks. This may include symptoms like:

  • Hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Trembling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Feelings of choking
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • Feeling of pins and needles
  • Feeling numb
  • Urge to go to the bathroom
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling confused or disoriented

Diagnosis

People with phobias are not always formally diagnosed. The majority of people with phobias like emetophobia are aware they have a fear, yet they choose to live their life with their phobia.

However, avoidance can be counterproductive and make phobias worse. A diagnosis may be a helpful starting point for treatment.

To reach a formal diagnosis of emetophobia, a doctor will consult the diagnostic criteria outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Causes

Phobias like emetophobia don't often have a singular cause. Typically, a number of factors can contribute to the development of a phobia.

Emetophobia typically has an early age of onset and may be due to a number of reasons.

Possible factors that can contribute to emetophobia include:

  • A traumatic past experience involving vomit
  • An observational learning experience, for instance, a child with a parent who is afraid of vomiting may also go on to develop a fear of vomit
  • An informational learning experience, like reading about a situation that involves vomit and developing a fear based on that information

Biological factors may also play a role in phobia development. It is believed some people are born with a genetic susceptibility to developing mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and phobias.

Treatment

If those with emetophobia don't receive treatment, their fear is likely to persist. However, there are some treatment options that can help alleviate the fear of vomiting.

Possible treatment options are:

  • Hypnotherapy, which utilizes hypnosis to facilitate treatment
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Counter conditioning
  • Reframing of past experiences involving vomiting
  • Role playing with vomiting and smells of vomit
  • Behavioral exposures

One of the most common treatment options for phobias is desensitization, or gradual exposure therapy. This involves the person with a fear of vomiting being exposed to vomit or situations that involve vomit in increasing amounts, often in combination with relaxation techniques.

This can be done by the individual as part of a self-help program, or with the assistance of a medical professional.

Coping

Emetophobia can feel all-consuming, and it may interfere with daily life. In addition to the treatment strategies outlined above, there are steps you can take to help cope with a fear of vomiting.

Some coping strategies to try include:

  • Look at the evidence logically: Rationalizing your phobia can help alleviate some of the unnecessary fear or anxiety that you may feel in response to the thought of vomiting.
  • Use relaxation techniques: Try deep breathing or meditation to help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Face your fear: Avoiding any possible situation that may involve vomiting will only make your fear worse. Try to expose yourself to possible scenarios like public transport or flying.
  • Use visualization: If you are feeling upset at the thought of vomiting, picture a calming scenario in your mind to help you fight off feelings of anxiety.
  • Practice self-care: Make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise, and make time to do the things you enjoy.

Summary

Emetophobia is an irrational and intense fear of vomiting. Those with emetophobia experience extreme levels of distress in the presence of vomit and may fear the anticipation of vomiting.

They may go to great lengths to avoid situations that could result in vomiting like drinking alcohol, taking public transit, or flying. Emetophobia can be difficult to treat, but treatment options include cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, exposure therapies, and role playing.

A Word From Verywell

A fear of vomiting can make daily life difficult, but support is available. If you are struggling due to emetophobia, consider reaching out to a mental health professional to learn more about the condition and how to improve your symptoms. There are various treatment options that may help alleviate your irrational fear of vomiting.

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9 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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