Emetophobia: the fear of vomiting

Still underestimated, emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, affects many more people than we think. It is often confused with anorexia or agoraphobia, but it deserves to be considered and treated appropriately. This vomit phobia is a real fear in its own right and affects all areas of life.

What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia is not a new disorder. It has been known for a long time, and as early as 1979 research was conducted on the subject. The word comes from the association of two Greek words: “emetos” which means “to vomit”, and “phobos” which means “fear”. Thus, suffering from it is not the simple disgust of vomiting, as many may experience, but a real phobia of vomiting. This irrational anxiety is particularly intense and extreme. It is classified as a situation-specific phobia. This anxiety disorder represents an irrational fear of vomiting.

This vomit phobia is not only related to the fear of vomiting in public or not, but goes far beyond that. Indeed, seeing vomit, hearing someone vomit, watching a movie in which an actor vomits, imagining a situation that could make a person sick, mentally visualising this situation is a source of excessive anxiety. Anxiety can even be provoked when you type “v” in your Google search bar because you are afraid you will come across “vomit”, or some of its derivative words. You experience a panic attack in which you feel you have no control over yourself or the situation. Hearing, seeing, imagining and being on the lookout for the slightest stimuli related to vomiting are sources of great anxiety. These images go round and round in your head.

When you are forced to face this situation, you are particularly uncomfortable, and this causes you to have a panic attack.

How is emetophobia different from other phobias?

This idea of vomiting is obsessive. It follows you around every day, in everything you do. It puts real pressure on you in everything you do, and you have to think of all the possible risk situations before you engage in an activity. Emetophobia is then particularly limiting in your life. What is difficult for you is to feel that you have no way out, as you cannot avoid anxiety-provoking situations. When you think of a person who is afraid of flying, you tell yourself that they can take the train instead. When you think of a claustrophobic person who doesn’t dare to take the lifts, you tell yourself that they can take the stairs. But for you, it’s different: this vomit phobia follows you everywhere. Whether you are alone, in social situations, at work, at parties or with friends. You never manage to find a moment of peace.

What are the two types of emetophobia?

There are two types of people suffering from this phobia, although a person may fall into both definitions. The severity may vary and the symptoms may be different.

There are the people who are afraid of vomiting themselves. In this category, you avoid all situations that might put you in harm’s way and put you in situations where you might vomit. That is, you are very anxious about going to a party, and eating or drinking excessively and vomiting, being sick, taking transport etc. For women, you even avoid getting pregnant or are afraid of the idea of pregnancy because of the risk of vomiting.

Then there are those who are afraid of witnessing vomiting situations. If you find yourself here, you are afraid of seeing a person/animal vomit, hearing someone vomit or even imagining it. So you avoid situations where you might come across someone who might be nauseous.

What are the differences between fear of vomiting and emetophobia?

Fear, unlike phobia, is less exaggerated and less intense than phobia. Phobia is unreasonable and extreme. It impacts on your whole life, and changes it. 

Being afraid of vomiting, therefore, a reasoned fear can be useful. Indeed, when you are afraid of it, you try to avoid contaminating situations and, therefore, you have a better chance of avoiding contracting a contagious disease. It is true that you may tend to be more cautious about hygiene rules, your diet, certain risky activities etc.

Who is affected by the fear of vomiting?

Vomit phobia affects about 0.1% of the population. This may not seem like much, but the number of people suffering from this extreme anxiety about vomiting is not insignificant.

It is an anxiety that does not affect only one category of people. Whether you are a man or a woman, an adult, an adolescent or a child, you can suffer from this phobia. However, it seems that women are slightly more likely to suffer from it. In addition, this anxiety develops mainly from adolescence onwards. It has also been found that people with emetophobia tend to be more sensitive to certain situations, which can make them feel disgusted with certain situations more easily.

If the anxiety is left untreated and panic attacks increase, there is a 40% risk that emetophobia will develop into more serious forms.

What are the origins of this vomiting phobia?

There is no single cause for emetophobia. Mostly, this phobia comes from a particular event, although it is not uncommon not to remember it. But there may be other explanations.

We can define the source as a trauma related to an event where vomiting was present. Indeed, it is possible that, following an illness, you vomited or saw someone vomiting. This caused you an anxiety that was initially trivial, but which then increased and turned into a constant and pervasive anxiety. It is therefore possible that you experienced this event and interpreted it as traumatic, or that you simply saw it on a video or in a film, read a newspaper article or saw pictures.

Furthermore, through the idea of vomiting, we can find the idea of the fear of separation and abandonment. Indeed, depending on your history and your childhood, we can imagine that there is a fear of separating from an element that is part of our body, and that this separation can be complicated. The relationship to the body can also be biased, with the fear of losing something that is inherent to you. So you hold on to what you have and are afraid of losing it. 

In addition, the phobia of vomiting can also be related to the fear of losing control or self-control. Vomiting is not something you choose but something that comes to you, that you experience. You see something liquid coming out of your body without you having any control over it. This is why adolescence is the most difficult period when you are not in control of your body and what comes out of it: whether it’s your first period or your first ejaculations for example.

Finally, it is possible that your emetophobia is linked to a traumatic event that is not directly linked to vomiting itself but rather to the mouth. Indeed, you may have been subjected to some constraint such as a forced fellatio, or having been forced to eat certain foods when you were no longer hungry or did not feel like it at all…


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