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Emetophobia (Fear of Vomiting)

Emetophobia is not a common word, but to someone who suffers from fear of vomiting, it is a familiar and unwelcome fact of life. Emetophobia (from the Greek word emein, to vomit) encompasses a variety of fears centered around vomiting, including fear of seeing or smelling vomit, of seeing someone else vomit, of being overcome by nausea, and of course of vomiting personally, especially in public. This phobia can cause extreme anxiety and focused behavior to avoid potentially being exposed to vomit or vomiting. However, emetophobics usually feel less fear after a vomiting event than they do when they feel they are about to vomit or witness vomiting.

Unfortunately, emetophobia is not well understood due to a lack of academic study on the phobia. However, for some, it is a very real and daily presence, and it affects people of all ages. Often sufferers are troubled by a traumatic memory linked in some way with vomiting — for example, from illness, pregnancy, alcoholism, or an embarrassing social situation — although this is not always the case. Researchers have also linked emetophobia to fear of lack of control, and in some sufferers, the phobia causes them to strive to have complete control over themselves and their lives. This in itself can cause additional anxiety because the sufferer has an inherent belief that they can control everything or the majority of what they experience. Emetophobia can also be compounded by social anxiety and other phobias like agoraphobia and of course fear of losing control.

Although emetophobia may seem fairly benign at first glance, this disorder can have debilitating effects. Fear of vomiting can greatly constrain someone, causing him to avoid public places and locations where he lacks control, like social gatherings, restaurants, airplanes, and trains. Avoidance of children, who are seen as germ carriers, can be another consequence. Emetophobic women have been known to postpone or avoid motherhood entirely due to fear of morning sickness. Emetophobia can also affect a person’s work and academic progression.

As you might expect, emetophobia is closely tied to food and diet concerns, and can have severe consequences on a person’s caloric consumption and eating habits. Fastidious food preparation is common among emetophobics, some of whom will wash food unnecessarily in fear of getting sick. In some cases, vomit phobia can cause fear of food (cibophobia) and anorexia nervosa.

Several successful celebrities also struggle with it, including Denise Richards, Joan Baez, Charlie Brooker (UK journalist and broadcaster), and Kate Beckinsale. And of course many have had success beating this phobia with therapy, the cultivation of healthy psychological habits, and medication. Psychology Today has some good common-sense tips on their website.

If you suffer from fear of vomiting, you are not alone. Please do not hesitate to contact us for help or for a free phone consultation with a licensed Austin psychologist. We are here to help.