Nausea and vomiting can be highly upsetting and make a person very uncomfortable.
While temporary distress is quite normal, many people fear vomiting. This type of intense fear of vomiting is known as emetophobia.
The person with emetophobia may not be sick but is simply afraid of vomiting. The word emetophobia is derived from the Greek word “remain,” which means the act of vomiting.
This phobia is often misdiagnosed as other mental disorders. However, the fear of vomiting can change an individual’s life completely.
The phobia is manifested by an irrational and excessive fear of vomiting or by seeing other people vomit. The person can form habits and feeding rituals to avoid vomiting altogether.
While it is considered to be one of the most common phobias in the world, there is relatively little research that has been done on emetophobia or the fear of anything related to vomiting.
This particular phobia has several subcategories, including fear of vomiting, fear of seeing or being around vomit, and fear of seeing someone vomit.
With so many different facets to this fear, it is surprising that more studies have not been applied to this phobia.
Causes of emetophobia
Typically, emetophobia is caused by someone having a negative experience with vomiting, usually at a young age.
For example, a stomach problem that causes a long night of violent and uncontrollable vomiting can be a trigger, as could an unexpected case of vomiting in public.
However, emetophobia can also occur spontaneously for no real known reason.
Some experts consider that emetophobia is linked to the fear of losing control.
Some people try to control every aspect of their lives whenever possible, and vomiting can be difficult or even impossible to control.
Vomiting can occur at inconvenient times and in potentially embarrassing situations, which can cause high levels of distress to those who fear doing so.
Emetophobia can also result from a distressing event in which the person experienced frightening vomiting or saw another person go through it.
It is widespread in people who have had health problems that caused persistent vomiting.
Such distress brought on by phobia can cause the brain to provoke illness and severe vomiting unconsciously.
People with severe emetophobia experience anxiety or even panic when faced with vomiting or the possibility of vomiting.
Nausea often causes a certain dread, and they will do their best to avoid people who feel nauseous.
This fear can also add to other social anxieties and create an association that can be daunting for people suffering from this problem. Among the main symptoms we have:
- Develop anxiety symptoms when you feel nauseous or when you vomit.
- Actively avoid situations where it is possible to contract a stomach virus that could lead to vomiting.
- A reluctance to eat or to be peculiarly meticulous about how food is prepared.
People who have extreme emetophobia often have trouble leading their everyday lives.
In their anxiety to avoid vomiting, they will also avoid children and alcohol.
Keeping a job can be difficult because any stomach problem can be debilitating, and the constant fear of contracting a disease decreases effectiveness at work.
Women who have emetophobia more often than men are reported to delay or altogether avoid pregnancy due to fear of morning sickness.
The phobia even complicates cooking, as emetophobic are meticulous about their food preparation and consumption.
Emetophobia may be creating a shunt from other disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia nervosa.
Also, the person may develop an unhealthy food diet and even avoid food altogether. This can be a severe problem for the physical health of the person.
Therefore, if the symptoms have affected a person’s life for more than six months, the person needs to visit a doctor.
Complications of emetophobia
People with long-term emetophobia may find that their condition generates other fears or obsessions over time.
Some patients develop cynophobia, which is the fear of food.
People with cynophobia may worry that their food has not been cooked enough or that it has not been stored properly, which could lead to illness.
Others may put strict limits on the types of food they eat, stick to what is “safe” (foods they have never vomited before), or even refuse to eat until they feel full for fear that this feeling may cause nausea and vomiting.
In the most extreme cases, some patients have developed anorexic tendencies in their desire to abstain from eating.
In these cases, which are very rare, the cessation of eating is not due to body image problems but to the extreme fear that the patient has of eating something that causes nausea or vomiting.
Many sufferers develop social anxiety or become agoraphobic, which is the fear of leaving the house.
They fear that they may end up in a place or situation where they cannot make it to the bathroom in time to vomit.
They may also be afraid of seeing another person vomit, which is another common side effect for those who have emetophobia. These fears can lead to feelings of anxiety, panic, and loss of control.
However, the more a person tries to avoid this type of situation, the worse and more complicated the fear becomes.
Moreover, what is particularly tragic about emetophobia is that children who have it will fear going to school and avoid going to a friend’s house. Adults will miss work and avoid going out to eat with friends and family, all for the better. A condition that rarely occurs.
Most of us could probably count on one hand the number of times we have vomited in our lives, yet the fear that it could happen at any time is enough for this type of fear to arise in emetophobic.
The thing about emetophobia is that it is often a complicated phobia to diagnose and treat due to other phobias and anxiety disorders that can develop along with it.
Therefore, if you seek help, you must be as open and honest with your counselor as possible about your symptoms to receive the most accurate diagnosis possible, which can lead to more effective treatment.
Emetophobia can be one of the most challenging fears to overcome, but it can be overcome over time.
Treatment of emetophobia
Emetophobia can be treated with a healthy combination of psychotherapies and medications. The treatment procedure used mainly includes:
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help treat emetophobia, as it helps modify the thoughts that might be causing the phobia.
The therapist can use therapies such as hypnosis that can help those who have emetophobia, as well as specific relaxation techniques.
Such treatments can reduce a patient’s feelings of discomfort and anxiety.
Through sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the therapist also teaches and helps the person recognize the phobia. Eventually, the person can ease all of the distress.
The main goal of treatment is to remove these negative thoughts and change them into positive ones.
By reversing the beliefs governing the patient’s life, it is possible to reduce the patient’s tendency to avoid certain situations and face each situation in a challenging way.
Medications commonly used in the treatment of emetophobia are anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants.
These help block brain chemicals, such as serotonin.