Emetophobia

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Emetophobia

Emetophobia is a term used for people who fear throwing up. It is a condition in which a person has in irrational fear of vomiting. People with emetophobia will fear throwing up or being exposed to a situation in which they may throw up.

People with emetophobia have a fear of vomiting as a result of different conditions. Such conditions include anxiety, social phobia and agoraphobia.

Symptoms of Emetophobia

A person with emetophobia have a distressing fear of throwing up. Any situation that may cause the affected person to throw up creates a great deal of anxiety.

Situations that may cause extreme anxiety and discomfort for an affected person include:

  • The possibility of getting sick
  • The possibility of throwing up
  • The possibility of feeling embarrassed after throwing up

Symptoms of emetophobia tend to center around avoidance and fear of throwing up. A person with emetophobia will engage in behaviors that prevent them from throwing up. They show symptoms of avoidance and stress in situations that remind them of throwing up.

Symptoms of emetophobia include:

  • Efforts to not get sick (avoiding germs, doctor offices, people who are sick, etc.)
  • Avoiding physical contact with others to prevent transmission of germs
  • Refusal to touch things that are dirty or have an odor
  • Avoiding foods and scents that remind them of vomiting
  • Excessive hand washing, cleaning of food, cleaning of surfaces, etc.
  • Fear of food-borne contaminants (over-cleaning or overcooking food)
  • Refusal to eat or drink unfamiliar food or drinks
  • Restricting diet and activities to omit anything the affected person thinks may cause them to throw up
  • Showing signs of agoraphobia
  • Avoidance of stressful situations or responsibilities
  • Engaging in rituals to prevent throwing up or getting sick
  • Obsessive research of ways a person can get sick or things that can cause them to throw up

 

Causes of Emetophobia

There are several triggers that can cause emetophobia. The primary cause of emetophobia is having a bad experience with throwing up. For some people, throwing up can be traumatic. It can cause a negative memory, which creates a fear of throwing up.

People may throw up due to being sick, eating something bad, or getting nervous. Sometimes it is the act of uncontrollable vomiting that creates the fear. Sometimes it is the embarrassment or shame that is felt following throwing up.

There are other situations and conditions that can cause emetophobia. It is believed that emetophobia can be caused by a fear of not feeling in control.

It can also be caused by suffering from other mental health conditions, like:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) suffer from obsessive thoughts. They also suffer from compulsive behaviors.

It is believed that emetophobia can be caused as a result of OCD. This is because of the obsessive thoughts and the compulsive fear that is created from throwing up.

Anxiety disorders. Suffering from an anxiety disorder can cause a person to develop a phobia. A phobia is a trigger for fear.

Emetophobia can result from anxious thought patterns and reactions. This is especially true for people with family members who suffer from anxiety.

Social phobia. People with social phobia suffer from anxiety when placed in social situations. They fear any situation in which they can be embarrassed in public. This includes getting sick in public. This is especially true for people who have gotten sick in public in the past.

Hypochondria. Hypochondria is a condition in which a person is constantly in fear of getting sick. This fear is often so strong that they convince themselves they are sick even though they are not. A fear of throwing up can be caused by the fear and obsession about getting sick.

Treatment of Emetophobia

It is hard for a person with emetophobia to go to therapy.  Therapy for emetophobia requires exposure to many feared situations. It focuses on targeting fears about throwing up.

The goal of therapy for emetophobia is to minimize the stress response and fears of throwing up. This often includes two types of therapy:

Exposure Therapy. Exposure therapy is a form of therapy that exposes people to their fears. It uses a hierarchy approach. This means that the person will begin with facing their least feared situation and work their way up to their most feared situation. This helps to reduce the stress reaction when confronted with a trigger.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps the affected person challenge their fears about throwing up. It teaches the client coping skills to use in the moment of anxiety.

It also teaches the affected person how to cope with feeling uncomfortable. With time, they learn that not every feared situation will lead to throwing up.

CBT takes the catastrophe away from throwing up. This means that if the affected person learns that if they do throw up, it will be uncomfortable, but will not have a devastating impact on their life.

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