Emetophobia is an intense and irrational fear of vomiting or seeing others vomit. It can cause an assortment of psychological, emotional and physical symptoms. Though these can vary in intensity depending on the severity of the condition, they can heavily affect an individual’s quality of life.
In this article, we’re going to explore these symptoms, discuss what triggers them and shed some light on how they can be managed.
Table of contents
- Symptoms of emetophobia
- What can trigger symptoms of emetophobia?
- How to manage symptoms of emetophobia
- How to find a therapist
Symptoms of emetophobia
Emetophobes can experience a swath of psychological, emotional and physical symptoms when they encounter a trigger or even think about the subject of their fear. In an attempt to avoid these symptoms, some individuals will begin to exhibit changes in behavioural patterns.
Though the intensity will vary depending on the individual, those with emetophobia may experience:
- Fear of seeing someone vomit
- Anxiety of being ill and throwing up
- Fear of not being able to stop throwing up
- Panic at the thought of choking on vomit
- Anxiety when nauseous or under the weather
- Distress over not being able to leave a situation if someone throws up
Some emetophobes will even suffer from intrusive thoughts that constantly remind them of their fears and, in some cases, increase the severity of their condition.
Like many other phobias, people with emetophobia are likely to experience an immediate fight-or-flight response when they encounter the subject of their fear. When this happens, they may be overwhelmed by emotions ranging from panic and distress to dread and confusion.
As emetophobia is still little known amongst the general public, emetophobes can feel intense embarrassment when their fear is triggered in public. The thought that people may not understand their phobia or may even mock them for it can be highly upsetting and may worsen the situation.
Feelings of anger and extreme betrayal are also common for emetophobes who are triggered by something caused by a loved one, e.g., an ill friend throwing up in their bathroom. This can cause a lot of tension and, consequently, take a heavy toll on relationships.
In addition to emotional turmoil, emetophobia can also provoke a variety of physical symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Panic attacks
- Hot flushes
- Intense sweating
- Tightness in chest
- Digestive problems
- Dry mouth
In certain scenarios, an emetophobe may try to flee the scene to distance themselves from the subject of their fear, scream, cry, or even pass out.
Changes in behaviour
To minimise their anxiety, increase their feelings of control and avoid triggering their phobia, emetophobes may introduce new, obsessive behaviours into their routine, such as:
- Not using words like “vomit”, “puke”, “throw up” and “nauseous”
- Avoiding depictions of vomit in pictures, TV and film
- Restricting their eating habits (avoiding foods they associate with vomiting, eating only a little, only eating at home)
- Limiting alcohol consumption or becoming teetotal
- Compulsively checking expiration dates and throwing out food long before it’s due to expire
- Overcooking food to eliminate bacteria and decrease the chances of getting food poisoning
- Excessively washing their hands, cooking surfaces and cutlery
- Carrying around hand sanitiser to eliminate germs
- Monitoring their body for signs of illness—being hypervigilant to any nausea or gastrointestinal distress
- Monitoring other people’s behaviour and health
- Avoiding people that are sick or might be sick
- Learning the locations of toilets when away from home
- Avoiding public places where people might throw up, e.g., bars, hospitals and amusement parks
- Taking time off work or school to limit exposure to potential germs and illnesses
- Limiting social interactions and activities
- Being reluctant to get pregnant out of fear of morning sickness
- Carrying around anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medications
Though an emetophobe might start out with just a few small changes to their routine, in time, their fear may cause them to retreat into themselves without treatment. Eventually, they may start to avoid most social activities and end up missing out on huge milestones in their lives—impacting their quality of life, mental health and general wellbeing.
The emergence of other fears and conditions
Left untreated, some people with emetophobia may go on to develop additional fears and conditions, including, but not limited to:
- Agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house, entering crowded spaces, or being in places where escape is difficult): to avoid potential triggers, some emetophobes will curb their social activities to the point where they stop leaving the house and feel uncomfortable when they need to go out.
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID): to minimise the chances of throwing up, many individuals with emetophobia will avoid certain foods and/or limit how much they eat.
- Cibophobia (fear of food): some emetophobes can develop a fear of food because of the potential effect it may have on their body, e.g., fearing that undercooked or expired food will make them throw up.
- Hodophobia (fear of travelling): individuals who have experienced travel sickness may avoid travelling altogether to minimise the chances of a repeat occurrence. If you’re worried about this one in particular, check out our 4 tips to prevent emetophobia ruining your holiday.
What can trigger symptoms of emetophobia?
Living with emetophobia can be a struggle, as many situations can potentially trigger the condition, such as:
- Seeing someone throw up
- Knowing that someone is ill
- Feeling nauseous or under the weather
- Eating ‘dangerous’ foods
- Looking at depictions of vomit in media
- Consuming food that could have been undercooked
- Drinking alcohol
- Going on a road trip
Simply thinking about throwing up and imagining horrible ‘what ifs’ can be enough to trigger some of the emotional, physical and psychological symptoms of emetophobia. Unfortunately, some emetophobes can often misinterpret these symptoms as a sign that their worst fear is about to occur, rather than a result of their fear and anxiety.
This can create a vicious cycle of:
- Feeling anxious or scared about vomiting or seeing vomit
- Triggering feelings of nausea and stomach upset, or worsening existing symptoms
- Panicking and thinking they’re going to vomit
- Feeling even more anxious and scared
This cycle can continue until the individual finally succumbs to their belief that they will vomit—resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy—or tires themselves out.
How to manage symptoms of emetophobia
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for people with emetophobia. Though it’s not always possible to cure this condition, there are various treatment options that can help minimise its symptoms.
- Antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs can be prescribed to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, but side effects can include nausea and vomiting.
- Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines can effectively treat anxiety, but they are addictive, so they will only be prescribed for 2 to 4 weeks. Beta blockers can also be helpful, but side effects can include nausea.
- Gastrointestinal medication, like cyclizine, can minimise nausea and stomach upset symptoms, which can curb your anxiety and fear response.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you manage your fear of vomiting by changing any inaccurate and unhelpful thoughts and behaviours to more positive ones.
- Exposure therapy involves exposing yourself to scenarios that trigger your emetophobia symptoms in a safe environment so that you can gradually reduce your fear and use of avoidance strategies.
- Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis and guided imagery so that you can explore your fear in a safe and controlled space and find ways to challenge your negative beliefs.
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy allows you to reprocess any traumatic events relating to your fear so that you can reduce the intensity of any associated emotions and symptoms.
How to find a therapist
Finding a therapist to help you manage your emetophobia symptoms doesn’t have to be a daunting or time-consuming task. EmetoGo has a team of experienced, passionate therapists who are keen to help those with emetophobia overcome their fear and start to live life to the full.
If you’re ready to take back control of your life, fill out our consultation form, and we’ll be back shortly to recommend the best treatment option for you.