Emetophobia 101: A Guide to Understanding the Fear of Vomiting
Let’s talk about throw up! Sounds fun, right?
I can’t think of anyone who likes throwing up or looks forward to throwing up. However, for many individuals, the fear of vomiting is so excessive and anxiety-provoking that it interferes in one’s daily life. When this happens, individuals may be diagnosed with emetophobia (a.k.a., the fear of vomiting). This specific phobia is often misunderstood and can cause significant shame, avoidance, and impairment for children and adults.
What is Emetophobia?
Persistent fear of vomiting that is excessive or unreasonable.
Exposure to throwing up (e.g., thinking you might throw up, feeling nauseous, hearing about others throwing up, reading about throwing up, watching movies or television shows in which an individual throws up, actually throwing up, etc.) almost invariably provokes an immediate anxious response.
Exposure to throwing up is avoided or endured with intense anxiety and distress.
The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress associated with fears of vomiting interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships.
What Does Emetophobia Look Like?
While every individual experiences Emetophobia differently, it is common to experience some of the following symptoms:
Individuals may avoid trying new foods, beverages, or restaurants.
Individuals may avoid eating too quickly or eating later in the day for fears of feeling nauseous or vomiting.
Individuals may avoid any books, movies, or television shows in which vomiting is discussed or displayed.
Adults may avoid alcohol or social venues, such as bars or parties, where they expect significant amounts of alcohol will be consumed.
Adults may avoid over the counter and prescription medications, which have nausea listed as a possible side effect.
Children may avoid their school’s cafeteria, gym, or the bathroom due to their fear of vomiting or exposure to someone who may vomit.
Individuals may excessively monitor their body for signs of illness or nausea (e.g., will take their temperature often or will be hyper-aware of any stomach distress).
Individuals may be hyper-sensitive to other individuals expressing that they feel nauseous or have a stomach ache.
How is Emetophobia Treated?
The best treatment for Emetophobia is for individuals to face their fears with exposure therapy. Although this may sound terrifying, the goal of this evidence-based treatment is for individuals to learn that they can confront and tolerate their fears. This is often accomplished through exposure to the following:
Exposure to environmental triggers - eating foods that have been avoid or going places that have been avoided, such as bars, lunchrooms, or public bathrooms
Exposure to physiological symptoms associated with nausea and vomiting, such as gagging or feeling full/over-eating
Exposure to vomiting, itself - reading stories that discuss vomiting, watching movies or television shows that display characters vomiting, listening to vomiting sounds, or looking at fake vomit
Emetophobia can feel paralyzing, isolating, and all-consuming. However, through exposure therapy, individuals can learn that while they will probably never enjoy throwing up, it does not have to control their lives.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Anxiety Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Goodman, K. Fear of Vomiting, or Emetophobia. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/specific-phobias/fear-of-vomiting.
Weg, A. (2017). Emetophobia: Fear of Vomiting as an Expression of OCD. IOCDF: OCD Newsletter, 31 (3), 10-12.