Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting, and it affects millions of Americans.1 People with this phobia are afraid of multiple aspects of becoming sick. They fear not being able to make it to a bathroom in time, being unable to stop vomiting, or harming themselves physically from being ill. Another strong fear is that they will embarrass themselves when they become sick. These worries may originate after a person has had a traumatic or unsettling experiencing with vomiting. The uncertainty of when or where they might become ill may start to consume all of their thinking and planning.

This fear is limiting because people with emetophobia may begin to avoid certain situations where these fears are strong. For example, they might not fly on a plane or avoid other enclosed or crowded spaces. They might avoid going out to dinner with friends, long car trips, or trying new foods. In their efforts to avoid becoming sick, people may find that the fear becomes stronger and their life is even more restricted.

Symptoms of Emetophobia can include:

  • Avoiding seeing vomiting on TV or in movies
  • Obsessing over the location of bathrooms
  • Avoiding all bad-smelling things
  • Avoiding hospitals or sick people
  • Inability to describe or hear words like “vomit”
  • Excessive preemptive use of antacids
  • Avoiding places where you’ve felt sick
  • Avoiding eating food away from home2

No one enjoys becoming sick, but it’s the excessive avoiding and fear that characterize emetophobia. When a person’s daily life is severely interrupted by this fear, then it is diagnosable as a specific phobia. Excessive worry about vomiting also can lead to the very symptoms a person is trying to avoid, such as nausea. When people began to recognize that anxiety is at work rather than a stomach bug or a bad food, they can learn that they are unlikely to vomit even though they might feel that they will.

Treating Emetophobia

Working on this anxiety through therapy, medication, and a combination of the two can help a person deescalate their panicked reaction to vomiting and teach their brain to tell the difference between anxiety and illness. Anti-anxiety medications can help manage the physical symptoms of panic. Exposure therapy is commonly used to treat emetophobia, by allowing an individual to become gradually more adjusted to situations that promote the anxiety of becoming sick. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help an individual test the irrational thought patterns they have about vomiting, reminding them that it is a rare event and that they can survive the embarrassment.3 Emetophobia is treatable, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor or your doctor.

Action Steps

Be objective – To overcome your fear of vomiting, it can be useful to focus on the facts. Ask yourself, “How many times have I actually vomited in my life?” Then ask, “How many days have I adjusted my life because of this fear?” If you have emetophobia, you may find that you’ve made significant life changes for something that happens very rarely. Being able to see that anxiety is driving fear and nausea rather than actual sickness can help you challenge and debunk your irrational fears. Because this can be difficult to do alone, however, a counselor can be a great resource in helping you be objective.

Be honest – Feelings of shame of embarrassment can keep people from speaking up about their emetophobia. They might make excuses about missing a dinner with friends rather than speak the truth about their fear. When you can be honest with loved ones about your struggle with emetophobia, you will have more support when you begin to try new foods, travel, or do any of the activities which pose a challenge for your phobia. Many also find that when they can be honest with others about their phobia, they can begin to be honest with themselves about needing help and support to overcome it.

Be assertive – Don’t be afraid to get specific and be assertive when asking for help. Don’t dance around the subject—just tell your doctor or counselor that you have a fear of vomiting that is controlling your life. No professional will be surprised or confused by this fear, so you don’t have to worry about being embarrassed. Emetophobia is a common phobia that is very treatable, so the more information you give a professional, the better they can treat you. If you feel that a professional is ill-equipped to help you, be assertive and ask for a referral to someone who can.

No fear has to dictate how you live your life, and the fear of vomiting is no exception. Consider how you can seek help today to challenge and move past a fear that is keeping you from your best life.

If you think you or someone you care about may be suffering from a specific phobia, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, PsyCom strongly recommends that you seek help from a mental health professional in order to receive a proper diagnosis and support. We have compiled a list of resources (some even offer free or low-cost support) where you may be able to find additional help at https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health.

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Last Updated: Oct 8, 2020