What Is Emetophobia?

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Emetophobia is a fear of vomiting that can significantly disrupt daily life. Besides fearing you will vomit, you may also fear feeling nauseous, seeing or hearing someone vomit, or seeing vomit.

The worry can become all-consuming and intensify over time. To reduce the worry of vomiting, someone with emetophobia will try to avoid vomit by skipping school or work, not spending time with friends, or not going to restaurants.

Emetophobia is classified as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the guidebook mental health providers use to diagnose mental health conditions.

An estimated 2% of men and 7% of women have emetophobia at some point in their lives. Mental health care can help reduce the distress emetophobia can cause and provide coping strategies.

What Causes Emetophobia?

People with emetophobia typically first experience the fear during childhood or adolescence. Most people with emetophobia are female. The phobia is usually chronic, lasting for years or a lifetime.

You may experience emetophobia after an adverse or traumatic experience of vomiting, or it may come about on its own. Generally, the phobia starts milder and grows in severity over time if not appropriately addressed.

Because people with emetophobia usually begin to avoid places, activities, and things they associate with vomiting, they can begin to feel even more and more fearful. You may fully avoid trying new foods or going to certain places. As a result, the fear can build over time.

Emetophobia Symptoms

Symptoms of emetophobia can be physical or psychological. The fear may cause you to experience:

To deal with the fear, people with emetophobia take on avoidant behaviors. You may find yourself:

  • Avoiding foods, alcohol, or restaurants that are new or that are associated with past vomiting
  • Avoiding saying or hearing words associated with vomit, including “barf” or “puke”
  • Closing your eyes during scenes of vomiting on TV or in movies
  • Avoiding being around sick people
  • Washing your hands and other surfaces excessively, particularly when cooking
  • Smelling, checking, and overcooking food or throwing away food before it expires
  • Using antacids before eating or monitoring your body for signs of illness
  • Checking for nearby bathrooms or eating near the door when in public
  • Restricting or avoiding travel, social activities, school, work, public transit, bars, clubs, or crowded spaces
  • Avoiding pregnancy over concerns about morning sickness

How to Manage Emetophobia

If you think you might have emetophobia, you can seek care from a mental health provider. Therapy is the most effective way to manage and treat phobias like emetophobia.

In therapy, you can expect to learn ways to challenge your fears, reduce your avoidance habits, and address challenges. When looking for a provider, you may want to specifically look for those who provide cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), metacognitive therapy (MCT), or exposure and response prevention (ERP), which have been shown to be effective in treating emetophobia.

Limited research also suggests that eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) can be helpful for treating emetophobia.

Your provider’s technique for helping you manage your emetophobia will depend on your individual needs, but they'll most likely utilize some of the following techniques:

  • Exposing you to vomit in various ways—from watching movie scenes of people vomiting to eating foods you find unappealing—gradually and with therapeutic support
  • Helping you identify your worries around vomiting and challenging them or finding ways to reduce your worries
  • Challenging you to put yourself in situations that you would typically avoid, such as riding public transportation
  • Teaching you mindfulness techniques

Other mental health professionals and researchers have suggested that emetophobia treatment should focus on the underlying reasons for fear and anxiety, rather than on the vomit itself.

If you find a mental health provider you would like to work with, ask them how they would build a treatment plan for you.

Related Conditions

Emetophobia is considered a type of anxiety disorder. Other conditions that someone with emetophobia might also be diagnosed with include:

People with emetophobia may also be underweight or show signs of disordered eating because of the lengths they go to avoid nausea.

One eating disorder that may be related to emetophobia is avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), a condition marked by abnormal eating habits. One reason why someone might experience ARFID is because they fear the negative consequences of eating, like vomiting. As such, many children with ARFID have emetophobia. A healthcare provider should rule out AFRID before treating emetophobia as the two are different and should be treated differently.

A Quick Review

Emetophobia, or fear of vomiting, is a mental health condition that can significantly impact your life if left untreated. If you have emetophobia, you may be overly worried about throwing up or feeling nauseous. You may also fear seeing or hearing someone vomit or seeing vomit. This fear of vomit leads you to avoid certain situations to a degree that it impacts your quality of life. If you have or suspect you might have emetophobia, it's important to seek care from a mental health provider. They can help you build skills to manage your phobia and get back to the daily aspects of life that emetophobia can impede.

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9 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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