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What Does Emetophobia Feel Like?

Brunette woman in black jumper covering her face with her hands
Image source: Ivan Aleksic (via Unsplash)

A fear of vomiting, also known as emetophobia, can come to dominate your way of thinking. In the effort to protect yourself from potential triggers, your world can slowly start to shrink until it feels like it’s impossible to work, socialise or have any semblance of a normal life.

If you have this condition, suspect you might have it, or know someone who does, understanding what emetophobia feels like can help you figure out what you need to do to manage it. Let’s go!

What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia is a specific phobia that involves an intense fear of vomiting, watching others vomit, seeing vomit, or feeling nauseous. For some people, even the thought that they, or someone else, might throw up is enough to cause distress and send them on a downward spiral.

Due to the anxiety they experience, emetophobes may take extreme measures to avoid triggering their condition, often to the detriment of their professional and personal lives.

What does emetophobia feel like?

Dark haired man wearing a black top with his hand over his face
Image source: Adrian Swancar (via Unsplash)

Emetophobia affects a significant number of people around the world, but the way in which it can present itself can depend on the individual in question and the severity of their condition.

To give you a better understanding of what emetophobia feels like, we’ve broken down some of the main components…

A sensitivity to ‘vomit’

As we’ve mentioned, people with emetophobia are scared of coming into contact with vomit, whether it’s from themselves or others. What you might not know is that some particularly sensitive emetophobes are scared of the very word ‘vomit’ and its associated synonyms.

Just thinking about these words can often be enough to trigger an emetophobe’s physical symptoms, such as nausea, increased heart rate, sweating and shaking. It’s for this reason that most forums like r/emetophobia, will use emetophobia forum abbreviations, e.g., v* (vomit), n* (nausea), t* u* (throw up).

The same principle can also apply to cartoons, pictures, TV shows or movies that include depictions of people throwing up. Even social media platforms like TikTok can trigger someone’s emetophobia, which is why some emetophobes will filter out certain keywords.

Feelings of betrayal

Despite vomiting being an unpredictable and uncontrollable process, most emetophobes cannot help but feel betrayed when someone throws up in their presence.

It might seem like a complete overreaction, but coming face to face with their fear is an extremely traumatic experience that can lead to them spending days feeling unclean and like they’re going to catch something.

Unsurprisingly, this can cause a lot of tension between emetophobes and their loved ones.

An aversion to sick people

Emetophobes often go above and beyond to avoid coming into contact with people who are sick. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. To avoid seeing them throw up
  2. To avoid catching what they have

This applies even when it’s a friend or family member who is ill—especially with diseases such as norovirus. It’s not that people with emetophobia don’t care that their loved one is sick, it’s just that their fear overrides any urge they may have to comfort them. They may be particularly worried about the prospect of sympathetic vomiting.

It’s for this reason that it can be so difficult to be a parent with emetophobia. Children get sick often, which means that you’re living in constant fear that they might vomit in your presence. You may also feel unable to be there for them when they’re feeling under the weather, which can lead to feelings of immense guilt.

Diet restrictions

People with emetophobia will generally restrict their diet in order to avoid coming into contact with food that might upset their stomach, or germs that can make them feel ill.

Depending on the severity of their condition, they might:

  • Avoid ‘dangerous’ food like raw meat, seafood, food that’s past its expiration date and leftovers.
  • Stick to ‘safe’ food and drinks like cereal, toast, crackers, soup, ginger ale and bottled water.
  • Skip meals or have to follow a strict ritual to avoid triggering their phobia.

In severe cases, some emetophobes will avoid eating altogether. Unfortunately, this can often have the opposite effect. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid to break down food and if you don’t eat, it will build up and cause acid reflux and nausea.

Excessive cleanliness

In addition to avoiding sick people and sticking to specific food and drinks, many emetophobes will employ a range of strategies to reduce their chances of coming into contact with germs that might make them ill.

This can mean:

  • Not shaking people’s hands, or avoiding close contact with others when they are or have been ill.
  • Washing their hands excessively throughout the day, often leading to cracked and bleeding hands. 
  • Cleaning every surface and utensil in the kitchen to keep food uncontaminated. 
  • Overcooking certain food types, like meat, to kill any potential germs. 
  • Throwing out food before it reaches its expiration date out of fear that it will make them sick.

These types of strategies allow emetophobes to feel as though they have some control over their condition. It’s also why some emetophobes are so reluctant to eat at other people’s homes, or at restaurants. If they don’t know that everything is as clean as possible, they can’t help but feel like every bite of food might contain germs that will make them sick.

Irrational thoughts

Part of having emetophobia involves overestimating your chances of getting sick, or coming into contact with vomit. What this means is that, rather than thinking logically about how likely these occurrences are, you’re overruled by your irrational and catastrophic thoughts.

Examples of this type of thinking include:

  • “If I start vomiting, I might carry on until I die.”
  • “I ate beef once and it made me throw up, so I can never eat beef again.”
  • “My friend is ill, which means I’m going to get ill and throw up.”
  • “My stomach’s unsettled which definitely means I’m going to vomit.”
  • “I’m going on a road trip. I’ll definitely get motion sickness and spend the journey trying not to vomit everywhere.”
  • “I vomited at my friend’s birthday party last year. What if I end up doing it again this year?”

The main problem with this line of thinking is that it often ends up triggering the event that you want to avoid. Worrying about being sick can make you feel anxious, which in turn can make you nauseous. This cycle can repeat endlessly until you eventually reach a breaking point.

Taking preventative measures

Living with emetophobia means being hypervigilant to your surroundings, such as looking out for triggers and being aware of potential escape routes. It also entails taking preventative measures to reduce your chances of throwing up.

When emetophobes feel like they might be nauseous, or know that they’re going to be in a situation where they could be triggered, they’ll often:

  • Take antiemetics or benzodiazepines
  • Suck on peppermints
  • Chew some gum
  • Sip some water, ginger ale or herbal tea
  • Use peppermint or lavender essential oil

Some people will carry these items around with them at all times, just on the off chance that they’ll end up under the weather or encountering a trigger.

Avoiding key places and situations

In the attempt to enhance their feelings of control, and decrease their chances of encountering potential triggers, emetophobes will avoid places and situations where vomiting could occur, such as:

  • Venues where alcohol is being served
  • Public transport
  • Hospitals
  • Parties
  • Amusement parks and roller coasters
  • Enclosed or crowded places
  • Public toilets

Unfortunately, depending on the severity of the condition and accompanying irrational thoughts, this could turn into a much longer list.

Though you might start with a few no-go zones to steer clear of your triggers, it can slowly but surely turn into a situation where you don’t really want to leave the house. This can make it difficult to maintain close relationships with friends and family, not to mention achieve key milestones in your professional and personal life.

Life with emetophobia

To summarise, a life with emetophobia can be overwhelming, challenging and extremely stressful. It can often feel like you’re spending more of your time worrying about ‘what ifs’ and overestimating the danger that you’re in than actually enjoying your life to the fullest.

The good news, however, is that emetophobes can get the help they need to manage their condition and reclaim their lives.

How EmetoGo can help you to manage your phobia

EmetoGo was founded with the intention of helping people with emetophobia learn how to manage their symptoms and, with time, overcome their fear.

Whether your fear is mild or severe, we’ve got a team of specialists who offer a range of therapies that will help you learn how to live your life to the fullest.

So, if you’re sick of emetophobia controlling your life, fill out our contact form today and one of our therapists will be in touch with you to get the ball rolling!