Emetophobia (from the Greek εμετός, to vomit, and φόβος (phóbos), meaning "fear") is an intense, irrational fear or anxiety of or pertaining to vomiting. This specific phobia can also include subcategories of what causes the anxiety, including a fear of vomiting in public, a fear of seeing vomit, a fear of watching the action of vomiting or fear of being nauseated. Emetophobia is clinically considered an “elusive predicament” because limited research has been done pertaining to it. The fear of vomiting receives little attention compared with other irrational fears.
Emetophobia may be triggered by upsetting incidents in the teenage years and affects predominately females.
Etymology and definition
The root word for emetophobia is "emesis," from the Greek word emein which means "an act or instance of vomiting" with "-phobia” meaning "an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation." Emetophobia refers to the intense fear of vomiting, feeling nauseated, seeing or hearing another person vomit, or seeing vomit itself. An individual with emetophobia may fear one, some, or all of these things. They may also be afraid of hearing that someone is feeling like vomiting or that someone has vomited, usually in conjunction with the fears of seeing someone vomit or seeing vomit. Some people with emetophobia will avoid seing certain movies if they have even the slightest suspicion that a vomiting scene will be shown. As with any phobia, these fears are not always logical, but they are present and very real. Emetophobia is not limited by age or maturity level. There are cases of emetophobia present in childhood and adolescence, as well as adulthood.
There is a strong agreement in the scientific community that there is no specific cause of emetophobia. Some emetophobics report a traumatic experience with vomiting, almost always in childhood, but many do not. Some suggest that sufferers are victims of childhood abuse - sexual or physical. While this is occasionally true, it seems to be no more prevalent than in the general population. (Christie, 2004) Some experts believe that emetophobia may be linked to worries about lack of control. Many people try to control themselves and their environment in every possible way, but vomiting is difficult or impossible to control.
There are many factors that can cause a legitimate case of emetophobia. It can affect the minds of young children, but Emetophobia can also be in the brain at any age. While some emetophobics are indeed severely mentally ill, many are not and have been diagnosed as such and treated inappropriately.
Dr. Angela L. Davidson et al. conducted an experiment where it was concluded through various surveys that people suffering from emetophobia are more likely to have an internal locus of control pertaining to their everyday life as well as health-related matters. A locus of control is an individual’s perception of where control comes from. Having an internal locus of control means that an individual perceives that they have their own control over a situation whereas an external locus of control means that an individual perceives that some things are out of their control. She explains how this phobia is created through the locus of control by stating, “Thus far, it seems reasonable to stipulate that individuals with a vomiting phobia deem events as being within their control and may therefore find it difficult to relinquish this control during the act of vomiting, thus inducing a phobia.”
In an internet survey conducted by Dr. Joshua D. Lipsitz et al. given to emetophobic people, respondents gave many different reasons as to why they became emetophobic. Among some of the causes listed were severe bouts of vomiting as children and being firsthand witnesses to severe vomiting in others due to illness, pregnancy, or alcoholism.
There are two assessment tools used to diagnose emetophobia; the Specific Phobia of Vomiting inventory  and the Emetophobia Questionnaire. The Specific Phobia of Vomiting Inventory and the Emetophobia Questionnaire are both self-report questionnaires that focus on a different range of symptoms. Because there have been a limited number of studies in regard to emetophobia, no specific treatment can be explicitly called the cure to this fear. Therapies and treatments available for individuals with other phobias have been used in trying to treat people with emetophobia.
Also noted in the emetophobia internet survey was information about medications. People were asked whether they would consider taking anxiety medication to potentially help their fear, and many in the study answered they wouldn’t for fear that the drugs would make them nauseated. Others, however, stated that some psychotropic medications (such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants) did help with their phobia, and some said gastrointestinal medications were also beneficial.
Exposure methods, using video-taped exposure to others vomiting, hypnosis, exposure to nausea  and exposure to cues of vomiting  Systemic behavior therapy  , psychodynamic  and psychotherapy  have also shown positive effects for the treatment of emetophobia.
Effects on life
Dr. Lipsitz et al.’s findings also showed that those afflicted with emetophobia often have difficulties comfortably leading a normal life. Many find that they have problems being alone with young children, and they may also avoid social gatherings where alcohol is present. Retaining an occupation becomes difficult for emetophobics. Professions and personal goals can be put on hold due to the high anxiety associated with the phobia, and travelling becomes almost impossible for some.
In Lipsitz et al.’s survey, women afflicted with emetophobia said that they either delayed pregnancy or avoided pregnancy altogether because of the morning sickness associated with the first trimester, and if they did become pregnant, it made pregnancy difficult.
Other inhibitions on daily life can be seen in meal preparation. Many emetophobic people also have specific “rituals” for the food they eat and how they prepare it. They frequently check the freshness of the food along with washing it several times in order to prevent any potential sicknesses that they could contract from foods not handled properly. Eating out is also avoided, if possible, and when asked Lipsitz et al.’s survey, many felt they were underweight because of the strict diets that they put upon themselves.
Emetophobia and anorexia
There are some cases where anorexia is the result of a fear of vomiting instead of the typical psychological problems that trigger it. In Frank M. Datillio’s clinical case study, a situation where anorexia results from emetophobia is mentioned. Datillio says, “…in one particular case report, atypical anorexia in several adolescent females occurred as a result of a fear of vomiting that followed a viral illness as opposed to the specific desire to lose weight or because of an anxiety reaction.”
Notable people with emetophobia
- Charlie Brooker
- Joan Baez
- Jessica Craig
- James Dean
- Cameron Diaz
- Regina Hall
- Matt Lauer
- Howie Mandel
- Denise Richards
- Frankie Sandford
- Roger Goodell
- Mary Jo White
- Cassandra De Dauw
- List of phobias
Notes and references
- Lipsitz, Joshua D., et al. "Emetophobia: Preliminary Results of an Internet Survey." Depression & Anxiety (1091–4269) 14.2 (2001): 149-52.
- Davidson, Angela L., Christopher Boyle, and Fraser Lauchlan. "Scared to Lose Control? General and Health Locus of Control in Females with a Phobia of Vomiting." Journal of Clinical Psychology 64.1 (2008): 30-9.
- Boschen, M. J. (2007). Reconceptualizing emetophobia: a cognitive-behavioral formulation and research agenda. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 407-419. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.06.007
- Becker, E. S., Rinck, M., Türke, V., Kause, P., Goodwin, R., Neumer, S., & Margraf, J. (2007). Epidemiology of specific phobia subtypes: Findings from the Dresden Mental Health Study. European Psychiatry, 22, 69-74.
- "Emesis - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Phobia - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Frank M. Dattilio. "Emetic Exposure and Desensitization Procedures in the Reduction of Nausea and a Fear of Emesis." Clinical Case Studies 2.3 (2003): 199-210.
- Fritscher, L. (2009). Emetophobia Fear of Vomiting. About.com Health's Disease and Condition. Retrieved from http://phobias.about.com/od/phobiaslist/a/emetophobia.htm
- Christie, A. (2004). Emetophobia: Fear of Vomitting Information for Professionals, Sufferers and their Families. Emetophobia Help. Retrieved from http://www.emetophobiahelp.org/fact-sheet.html
- Veale, D., Ellison, N., Boschen, M. J., Costa, A., Whelan, C., Muccio, F., & Henry, K. (2012). Development of an inventory to measure specific phobia of vomiting (emetophobia). Cognitive Therapy And Research, doi:10.1007/s10608-012-9495-y
- Boschen, M & Riddell, T. (2005) Emetophobia Questionnaire (EmetQ). (Unpublished)
- McFadyen M, Wyness J (1983). You don’t have to be sick to be a behaviour therapist but it can help! Treatment of a vomit phobia. Behavioural Psychotherapy 11, 173–176.
- Wijesinghe B (1974). A vomiting phobia overcome by one session of flooding with hypnosis. Journal of Behavioural Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 5, 169–170.
- Lesage A, Lamontagne Y (1985). Paradoxical intention and exposure in vivo in the treatment of psychogenic nausea: report of two cases. Behavioural Psychotherapy 13, 69–75.
- Hunter PV, Antony MM (2009). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of emetophobia: the role of interoceptive exposure. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice 16, 84–91.
- O’Connor JJ (1983). Why can’t I get hives: brief strategic therapy with an obsessional child. Family Process 22, 201–209.
- Ritow JK (1979). Brief treatment of a vomiting phobia. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 21, 293–296.
- Manassis K, Kalman E (1990). Anorexia resulting from fear of vomiting in four adolescent girls. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 35, 548–550.
- Nelson-Percy, C. "Treatment of Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy: When should it be Treated and what can be Safely Taken?" Drug Safety 19.2 (1998): 155-64.
- Brooker, Charlie (2008-01-14). "Guardian". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-12-31.
- "Contact music". Retrieved 2009-09-17.