Vomiting is by no means a pleasant experience. However, it is a normal and natural bodily function that enables the body to get rid of something hazardous. Emetophobia is a type of phobia pertaining to vomiting. Emetophobia can be characterized by several fears related to vomiting, such as being afraid of throwing up in public, worrying about seeing vomit, having anxiety about watching one throw up, or being scared of feeling nauseous. Emetophobia is defined by an intense fear that can impede normal functioning, cause significant distress, and cause extreme behaviors. A person with this fear may make great efforts to avoid a situation that they deem harmful.
There is little clinical research on the topic of emetophobia. The fear of vomiting receives less attention than some other phobias and irrational fears. A person with emetophobia may be significantly underweight or even anorexic due to restrictive diets that they make for themselves. The prospect of vomiting may cause one to try to escape and flee a scene before an incident of vomiting occurs. Anxiety about vomiting could potentially cause someone to feel like they have to throw up even when they do not. A person suffering from this phobia may become tearful, scream, or potentially pass out when they themselves or someone else becomes sick.
There is no distinct cause of emetophobia, but individuals suffering with the condition usually report that some type of traumatic event related to vomiting occurred at some point during their childhood. A person could have had an especially negative experience with the stomach flu, or could have potentially vomited in a public place at a very inopportune time. A person may have been in close proximity with someone who vomited near them, or could have even been vomited on by another person. A person may have had repeated experiences watching severe vomiting that was linked to pregnancy, alcoholism, or sickness.
Others believe that emetophobia may be more related to an anxiety about a lack of control. Many people attempt to control their environments as much as they can. It is no secret that vomiting is a bodily process completely out of one’s control. Vomiting often occurs without warning and with little time to prepare for it. A person cannot control where they are when it will happen or who will be around them when it does. People who have the perception that they are in control of their lives may find it very difficult to give up this control when vomiting unexpectedly occurs.
People with emetophobia may have other co-occuring mental health disorders, fears, and phobias. Social anxiety, the fear of flying, and agoraphobia are often linked to emetophobia, as those who fear vomiting often fear doing it in a public place. Thus, they may stay home, limit their social engagements, or avoid places with alcohol or food. They may avoid travel due to fears about vomiting from motion sickness, or being near someone else who does. They may avoid amusement parks and roller coasters, or other extreme sporting events for the same reasons. Other women may avoid or delay pregnancy due to anxiety about morning sickness. Some may avoid babies and young children, who are more prone to vomiting from overindulging or various illnesses.
There are two assessments that are used in the diagnosis of emetophobia, the Specific Phobia of Vomiting inventory and the Emetophobia Questionnaire, which are two self-report questionnaires that inquire about a wide range of symptoms. Psychotherapy, hyponosis, and exposure methods can be helpful in treating the condition. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can also be prescribed to help people to manage symptoms.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.