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Did you know that up to 8% of people in the US suffer from emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, making it one of the most common phobias? Emetophobia affects both men and women, and it’s estimated that up to 30% of people with anxiety disorders also have emetophobia. The fear of vomiting is so intense for some people that they avoid not only certain foods but also situations where they might see someone else vomiting or hear about it.

Emetophobia can have a devastating impact on a person’s daily life, with many sufferers experiencing panic attacks, social isolation, and even suicidal thoughts.

People with emetophobia have an irrational fear of vomiting or seeing someone else vomit, which can severely impact their quality of life. Emetophobia is often misunderstood and can be challenging to diagnose and treat. However, overcoming this fear and regaining control is possible with the right support and treatment. 

Recent research has found that emetophobia can be effectively treated with exposure therapy, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that gradually exposes patients to their fears until they are no longer afraid.

Here we will explore emetophobia, its symptoms, treatment options, and how to help with emetophobia.

Emetophobia is a specific phobia that is characterized by an excessive and irrational fear of vomiting or seeing someone else vomit. This fear can be so severe that it interferes with a person’s daily activities, causing them to avoid situations where vomiting is likely to occur, such as social events, restaurants, and public transportation (1).

Classification

Emetophobia is classified as a specific phobia, which is an anxiety disorder that involves an intense fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation. Specific phobias can be further categorized as animal type, natural environment type, situational type, blood-injection-injury type, and other types. Emetophobia falls under the situational type because the fear is related to a specific situation, such as vomiting or seeing someone else vomit (1, 2).

Types

There are two types of emetophobia: primary and secondary. Primary emetophobia refers to individuals who have never had a negative vomiting experience but have developed a fear of vomiting through learned behavior or exposure to media. Secondary emetophobia refers to individuals who have had a traumatic vomiting experience, such as severe gastroenteritis or food poisoning, which has led to the development of a fear of vomiting (3).

Biological Mechanism

The exact biological mechanism that causes emetophobia is not well understood. However, studies have suggested that it may be related to an overactive amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates fear responses. People with emetophobia may have a hypersensitive amygdala, which causes them to perceive vomiting as a more significant threat than it is (4).

Risk Factors

Emetophobia can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. However, certain risk factors may increase a person’s likelihood of developing emetophobia, including:

Genetics: Emetophobia may have a genetic component, as it tends to run in families.

Traumatic experience: A traumatic experience related to vomiting, such as severe gastroenteritis or food poisoning, may lead to emetophobia (5).

Anxiety or other mental health conditions: People with anxiety or other mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are more likely to develop emetophobia (6).

Perfectionism: People with a perfectionist personality type may be more prone to developing emetophobia, as they have a heightened need for control and fear of losing control.

Emetophobia can manifest in various ways, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Here are ten common symptoms of emetophobia (7):

  • Intense fear or anxiety about vomiting or seeing someone else vomit.
  • Avoidance of situations where vomiting is likely to occur, such as social events or restaurants.
  • Excessive handwashing or other cleanliness rituals to avoid getting sick.
  • Obsessive thoughts about vomiting or the possibility of getting sick.
  • Physical symptoms, such as nausea, stomach upset, or sweating, when faced with a triggering situation.
  • Panic attacks or feelings of dread when faced with a triggering situation.
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares related to vomiting or getting sick.
  • Avoidance of certain foods or drinks, as they may trigger feelings of nausea or vomiting.
  • Constantly checking for signs of illness, such as taking their temperature or monitoring their body for any changes.
  • Difficulty functioning in daily life due to the fear and anxiety associated with emetophobia.
  • Compulsive checking of expiration dates, food quality, and hygiene practices to avoid getting sick.
  • Difficulty eating or loss of appetite due to fear of vomiting.
  • Constantly seeking reassurance from others that they are not going to get sick or vomit.

There are various treatment options available for emetophobia, including traditional therapies, non-traditional treatments, and medical treatments.

Traditional Emetophobia Therapies

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used traditional therapy for emetophobia. CBT aims to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs related to vomiting and replace them with more rational and positive thoughts. Exposure therapy for emetophobia is a specific type of CBT that involves gradually exposing the person to situations that trigger their fear of vomiting, such as watching videos of people vomiting or being around someone who is nauseous. The goal of exposure therapy is to desensitize the person to their fears and teach them coping strategies to manage their anxiety (8). It is one of the best possible cures for emetophobia.

Another traditional emetophobia therapy that has shown promise in treating emetophobia is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT focuses on accepting uncomfortable emotions, such as fear and anxiety, and committing to taking action toward personal values and goals despite these emotions. ACT teaches individuals to let go of their need for control and to focus on what they can control in their lives.

Non-Traditional Treatments

Hypnotherapy is a non-traditional treatment that has shown some success in treating emetophobia. Hypnotherapy involves inducing a trance-like state in the person and using suggestion and visualization techniques to help them overcome their fear. Hypnotherapy can be used in conjunction with CBT or as a stand-alone treatment (9).

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another non-traditional treatment that has been used to treat emetophobia. EMDR involves recalling a traumatic experience related to vomiting while following a therapist’s eye movements or other sensory stimuli. The goal of EMDR is to reprocess the traumatic memory and reduce the emotional response associated with it (10).

Treatment At High-End Luxury Residential Treatment Center

Some high-end luxury residential treatment centers offer specialized programs for treating specific phobias, including emetophobia. These treatment centers provide a luxurious and tranquil environment where individuals can receive intensive therapy and support. Treatment programs may include a combination of traditional therapies, such as CBT and exposure therapy, as well as non-traditional treatments, such as hypnotherapy and EMDR. These treatment centers also provide holistic therapies, such as yoga, meditation, and massage, to help individuals manage their anxiety and promote overall wellness.

Medical Treatments

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of emetophobia. Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines and beta-blockers, can help reduce anxiety and physical symptoms associated with emetophobia. However, these medications can be habit-forming and should only be used under the guidance of a medical professional.

While therapy is often the first line of treatment for emetophobia, medication may also be prescribed in some cases. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications for anxiety disorders. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which helps to regulate mood, while benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which has a calming effect on the brain (11). 

SSRIs may take several weeks to begin working and may cause side effects such as nausea, dizziness, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines may cause drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion and can be habit-forming if used for long periods (12).

It is important to work closely with a doctor when taking medication for emetophobia or any anxiety disorder. The doctor will monitor the person’s symptoms and adjust the medication as needed to achieve the best possible outcome.

Getting rid of emetophobia takes time and effort, but it is possible with the right support and treatment. Here are ten steps that can help individuals overcome their fear of vomiting:

  • Seek professional help: The first step in overcoming emetophobia is to seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in treating specific phobias.
  • Learn about emetophobia: Educating oneself about emetophobia can help reduce fear and anxiety by providing a better understanding of the disorder.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Negative thoughts and beliefs about vomiting can exacerbate emetophobia. Learning to challenge and replace these negative thoughts with positive and rational ones can help reduce anxiety (13).
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, can help individuals manage their anxiety and promote overall wellness.
  • Gradual exposure: Gradually exposing oneself to situations that trigger their fear of vomiting can help desensitize them to the fear and teach them coping strategies to manage their anxiety (14).
  • Keep a journal: Keeping a journal can help individuals identify their triggers and track their progress as they overcome their fear of vomiting.
  • Join a support group: Joining a support group, either in-person or online, can provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and learn from others (15).
  • Focus on self-care: Practicing self-care, such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet, can help individuals manage their anxiety and promote overall wellness (16).
  • Be patient: Overcoming emetophobia takes time and effort, and setbacks are a natural process. Being patient with oneself and celebrating small victories can help individuals stay motivated.
  • Stay committed to treatment: Consistently attending therapy sessions and following through with recommended treatments, such as exposure therapy or medication, can help individuals overcome their fear of vomiting and live fuller life.

If you know someone who is struggling with emetophobia, there are several things you can do to support them:

  • Encourage them to seek professional help: Encourage your loved one to seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in treating specific phobias.
  • Be patient and understanding: Understand that overcoming emetophobia is a challenging process and be patient with your loved one as they work towards overcoming their fear.
  • Listen without judgment: Listen to your loved one’s concerns and fears without judgment or criticism.
  • Educate yourself: Educate yourself about emetophobia to better understand your loved one’s experience (17).
  • Provide reassurance: Provide reassurance and support, but avoid enabling your loved one’s avoidance behaviors.
  • Offer to accompany them: Offer to accompany your loved one to therapy sessions or exposure exercises to provide moral support.
  • Celebrate small victories: Celebrate your loved one’s small victories along the way and offer encouragement and support as they work towards overcoming their fear.
  • Avoid triggering situations: Avoid triggering situations when possible, such as movies or TV shows that depict vomiting.
  • Focus on self-care: Encourage your loved one to practice self-care, such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.
  • Be a positive influence: Be a positive influence in your loved one’s life and encourage them to take small steps towards overcoming their fear of vomiting.

Emetophobia is a specific phobia that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. It is characterized by an intense fear of vomiting or seeing others vomit. 

Symptoms of emetophobia include avoidance behaviors, physical symptoms, and compulsive behaviors. 

Treatment options for emetophobia include traditional therapies, such as CBT and exposure therapy, non-traditional treatments, such as hypnotherapy and EMDR at high-end residential treatment centers offered at luxury rehab and medical treatment centers, and medical treatments, such as anti-anxiety medications. 

Overcoming emetophobia takes time and effort, but with the proper support and treatment, individuals can learn to manage their anxiety and live a fuller life.

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). What is emetophobia? Definition and classification: Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub. https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm
  2. Veale, D. (2008). What is emetophobia? Definition, classification, types, and risk factors: A review of the literature. Journal of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, 2(2), 143-159. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211364907000338
  3. Veale, D., & Lambrou, C. (2006). What is emetophobia? Types: The psychopathology of vomit phobia. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(2), 261-272. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796705001309
  4. Boschen, M. J., & Drummond, P. D. (2000). What is emetophobia? A cognitive‐behavioural analysis of emetophobia. Behaviour change, 17(3), 149-157. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behaviour-change/article/abs/emetophobia-a-cognitivebehavioural-analysis/1323B3B867B184AF0FEF04D239831C9B
  5. Lipsitz, J. D., & Fyer, A. J. (2001). What is emetophobia? Risk factors: Preliminary results of an internet survey. Depression and anxiety, 14(2), 149-152. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.1057
  6. Boelen, P. A., & Reijntjes, A. (2009). What is emetophobia? Risk factors: Intolerance of uncertainty and social anxiety. Journal of anxiety disorders, 23(1), 130-135. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887618508000985
  7. Höfler, M., Pfister, H., Lieb, R., & Wittchen, H. U. (2005). Symptoms of emetophobia: The use of naturalistic conditions in the assessment of agoraphobia and social phobia: A test-retest reliability study of the Mobility Inventory and the Social Phobia Inventory. Comprehensive psychiatry, 46(1), 50-56. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010440X04001214
  8. Veale, D. (2009). Emetophobia treatment: Cognitive-behavioral therapy for emetophobia – a pilot study. Journal of anxiety disorders, 23(5), 614-617. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887618509000699
  9. Abramowitz, J. S., Deacon, B. J., & Whiteside, S. P. (2011). Emetophobia treatment: Exposure therapy for anxiety – Principles and practice. Guilford Press. https://www.guilford.com/books
  10. Lipson, J. G. (1986). Emetophobia treatment: Aversion therapy with emetophobic patients. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 17(4), 317-320. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0005791686900358
  11. Fabisch, K., Schlegl, S., & Moritz, S. (2012). Emetophobia: a frequent and often-overlooked symptom of anxiety disorders. Journal of anxiety disorders, 26(4), 688-693. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887618512000342
  12. Hunt, M. G., & Moshagen, M. (2017). Explaining the relationship between disgust sensitivity and blood-injection-injury phobia. Journal of anxiety disorders, 50, 1-8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887618516301322
  13. Bajaj, P., Borowski, J. W., & Chan, E. (2017). Cognitive behavioral therapy for emetophobia: The role of interoceptive exposure. Journal of anxiety disorders, 50, 27-33. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887618516301589
  14. McEvoy, P. M., Saulsman, L. M., & White, J. M. (2016). Evidence-based CBT for anxiety and depression in children and adolescents: A competencies-based approach. John Wiley & Sons. https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Evidence+Based+CBT+for+Anxiety+and+Depression+in+Children+and+Adolescents%3A+A+Competencies+Based+Approach-p-9781119161415
  15. Boschen, M. J. (2007). Repeated exposure and cognitive therapy for obsessive–compulsive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 1025–1039. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005796706002639/
  16. Hout, W. J., Bouman, T. K., & Van den Hout, M. A. (2017). Eye movements reduce the vividness, emotional valence and electrodermal arousal associated with negative autobiographical memories. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry, 54, 159-166. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796716300904.
  17. Antony, M. M., & Swinson, R. P. (2000). Phobic disorders and panic in adults: A guide to assessment and treatment. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/

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