Emetophobia: The Fear of Vomiting

Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Characteristics of emetophobia

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

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What Is Emetophobia?

Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. It involves being fearful of vomiting oneself, but also of seeing or hearing another person vomit or of seeing vomit. This mental health condition is classified as a specific phobia, which involves having a persistent, intense, and irrational fear of an object or situation.

Emetophobia Definition

In research, emetophobia is defined as "the specific fear of vomiting and avoidance behaviors related to vomiting situations."

Emetophobia can begin at any age; although, many adults report having a fear of vomiting as a child. There is limited research into how common this fear is. However, one study suggests that emetophobia is rare in that it exists in 0.1% of the population.

Emetophobia may be related to other fears, such as having a fear of food. It can also be related to different mental health conditions, such as an eating disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Causes of the Fear of Vomiting

While cases of stomach flu, overindulging in alcohol, and food poisoning happen to everyone, the act (or thought) of vomiting can instill fear in some. The fear of throwing up is often, but not always, triggered by a negative experience with vomiting.

The risk of emetophobia may be higher if you remember throwing up in public, for example. When vomiting happens at times or in places that are embarrassing or inconvenient, it can be highly distressing. This fear may also develop if you experience a long night of uncontrollable vomiting.

Some experts believe that emetophobia may be linked to worries about a lack of control. People can try to control themselves and their environment in every possible way, but controlling vomiting is difficult if not impossible. This inability to control the situation can lead to a fear of vomiting.

Recap of Emetophobia Causes

Emetophobia can be caused by a negative vomiting experience, or it might also be a result of not feeling like you have control over this biological process.

Symptoms of Emetophobia

Symptoms of emetophobia can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance of situations where you might encounter vomit
  • Disruption of daily life (you're unable to go to work or school, for example)
  • Emotional and physical distress
  • Nausea and digestive upsets
  • Panic attacks
  • Social isolation (you may isolate yourself from others due to the fear of being near people who may throw up)

If you have emetophobia, you may develop certain behavioral patterns in an effort to feel better. You might sleep with a towel next to you in case you are ill during the night, for instance. Or you might be most comfortable in a particular room of your home, or even outside.

Someone with a fear of vomiting may feel compelled to learn the most direct path to a restroom in any new building. They may also be extremely anxious about long car trips and feel safer when they do the driving. The reluctance to carry passengers comes from fearing who might see them vomit if they cannot reach a restroom in time.

Nausea and digestive upsets that people with emetophobia experience are common symptoms of anxiety and can lead to a self-replicating cycle. You are afraid to vomit, and the fear causes nausea. Nausea makes you feel like vomiting which, in turn, triggers your phobia and makes you more afraid.

Research indicates that this cycle may be the result of hyper-vigilant sensitivity to and/or the misappraisal of nausea and other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Complications of the Fear of Vomiting

If left untreated, someone with emetophobia might develop additional fears. Cibophobia, or the fear of food, may co-occur with the fear of vomiting due to worrying that foods are not cooked or stored properly, which could lead to food poisoning and throwing up.

People with emetophobia might also develop tendencies toward food restriction or anorexia. They may begin to severely restrict their diet or refuse to eat enough to feel full out of fear that being full can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Some who live with emetophobia develop social anxiety or agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is a fear of places or situations that might cause you to feel anxious, panicky, or out of control.

An individual with a fear of vomiting might also be reluctant to spend time with people for fear of throwing up in front of them. Alternately, they may limit their time with others out of fear that someone will vomit in front of them.

Related Conditions

Studies have found that people with emetophobia tend to have certain other mental health conditions at higher rates than the general population, some of which include:

Research connects the fear of vomiting with OCD by citing that people with emetophobia often have repetitive behaviors.

Treatment for Emetophobia

Treatment for the phobia of vomiting can be somewhat complicated since many people simultaneously experience other phobias and anxiety disorders. However, you can overcome a fear of vomiting with the help of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one option for people with emetophobia. CBT can help individuals with this condition confront their fears and replace their negative thoughts regarding throwing up.

One type of CBT found beneficial for people with emetophobia and panic attacks is exposure-based therapy. In a 2016 case study, a teenage patient had a reduction in both emetophobia symptoms and panic attacks after engaging in this therapy type.

Hypnotherapy is another method used for treating emetophobia. During hypnotherapy, the therapist guides a patient into a relaxing, trance-like state. Once the patient is relaxed, their subconscious is more receptive to new suggestions about their fear—almost like reprogramming the mind to see the fear in a less scary way.

Medication

Medication may also be suggested in some cases. Your healthcare provider might recommend an antidepressant, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Benzodiazepines are another option for people with a fear of vomiting and can help by reducing feelings of anxiousness.

Gastrointestinal medications may help relieve physical symptoms of emetophobia, such as nausea. They can also assist with digestive problems that can perpetuate or exacerbate this fear.

Lifestyle Practices

In your daily life, relaxation techniques can also help you overcome a fear of vomiting. Practices like mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can bring you into the present moment, reduce your anxiety and stress, and help you to better cope with your phobia.

It's important to engage in self-care when managing your emetophobia as well. Getting adequate rest, eating a nutritious diet, and incorporating exercise into your routine can all benefit your overall mental health.

A Word From Verywell

It can take some time and effort, but emetophobia can be overcome. Know that the fear of vomiting is treatable, and you can find the help you need.

There are several resources that can help with this fear, such as engaging in therapy. Talk to your healthcare provider and, together, you can make a plan of action that takes into consideration your specific situation and needs.

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Verywell Mind 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 Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.