Phobia of vomiting: what is emetophobia?

The fear of throwing up, or seeing someone throw up, is one of the most common phobias around the world. It’s not just disgust, it’sreal distress, which pushes emetophobic people to avoid any risky situation. What is the origin of emetophobia? How to overcome it?

Definition: what is emetophobia

Emetophobia (from ancient Greek emitoswhich means “to vomit” and phoboswhich means “fear”) refers to the irrational, uncontrollable fear of vomiting, or of seeing someone else vomit. This phobia is little known, yet ranked as the third most common phobia by the UK National Health Service (NHS), after social phobia and agoraphobia. It can generate permanent anxiety and sometimes panic attacks at the mere mention or feeling of nausea.

People who suffer from it talk about a feeling out of control and of fear that the vomiting will never stop. A simple stomach ache or nausea can give rise to an anxiety attack. For some, emetophobia has always been part of their daily life, while for others it was triggered by a traumatic event. In general, it tends to be trivialized or mocked. It is therefore accompanied shame, guilt and embarrassmentwhich only increase the feeling of anxiety.

Emetophobia manifests differently in each person. The constant state of anxiety is a common basis for all patients. A simple joke or reference to vomit in a conversation, movie, song or game can provoke reactions ranging from from the feeling of anxiety to the panic attack. Like most phobias, it is mainly anticipation that induces the symptoms:

  • an irrational and excessive fear of vomiting, or of seeing someone vomit;
  • frequent concern about vomiting and the implementation of avoidance strategies;
  • avoidance of foods or situations that can cause nausea or even anorexia nervosa;
  • strong anxiety at the very mention of vomiting or the word “vomit”;
  • panic attacks in the event of nausea, vomiting or suggestive symptoms (fear of feeling unwell or of dying, sweating, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, etc.);
  • feelings of shame and guilt;
  • etc

Anything related to meal preparation, food storage, or food hygiene can become a source of anxiety. In the most extreme cases, emetophobes reorganize their whole life according to their phobia, avoiding situations that may confront them with their fear. Some women are even afraid of get pregnantfor fear of feeling nauseous during their pregnancy or of being confronted afterwards with their baby who vomits.

Test: are you emetophobic?

There is no actual test to diagnose emetophobia, but certain everyday situations can give you a clue:

  • You avoid all situations that could cause nausea or vomiting (drinking alcohol, crowds, public transport, pregnancy, sports, etc.);
  • You apprehend the food and all the phases of preparation and storage that precede meals. You also find it difficult to eat out, with friends or in a restaurant;
  • You are very afraid of getting sick (obsessive ideas, even hypochondria) and do everything to avoid this (accumulation of health checks);
  • You are afraid of your own body and its reactions;
  • etc

Phobia of vomiting: what are the consequences?

The consequences of this phobia can be severe:

  • malnutrition and deficiencies,
  • significant weight loss,
  • reckless taking of medication,
  • social withdrawal and isolation,
  • orthorexia that can lead to anorexia,
  • etc

Emetophobes often travel with anti-vomiting medications, candy and nausea bags. Some avoid going out to restaurants or bars, or even traveling, so as not to be confronted with situations that can trigger nausea, as mentioned above.

Causes: why be afraid to vomit?

Emetophobia, like other phobias, can have several causes, although they are still poorly identified:

  • Symptoms may appear after a traumatic eventa source of deep disgust or humiliation (this can be a traumatic memory of gastroenteritis or a much more serious episode, such as forced fellatio, for example).
  • Emetophobia can also to be transmitted by mimicryfrom parents to children.
  • In some cases, it is linked to a hypochondria or a social phobia (the person is afraid of the judgment of people who will see them vomit).

Treatment: can emetophobia be cured?

Emetophobia is expressed to varying degrees and can be more or less impactful on a daily basis. Fortunately, several solutions can help to remedy this effectively:

  • The cognitive behavioral therapy (CCT);
  • L’hypnosis and theEMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing);
  • Certain medications are sometimes offered to reduce anxiety (SSRI-type antidepressants and certain anxiolytics).

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