Emetophobia is the fear of vomit or vomiting. Being around someone who is ill, seeing vomit or feeling nauseous may make you feel anxious and panicked. If you have a fear of vomiting, it may be difficult to even hear or read the word “vomit.” While this is uncomfortable, read on to learn more about treatment options to help you feel better.
Vomiting isn’t something that people enjoy doing. But after an illness, most people don’t think about it. If you have emetophobia, you’re constantly worried about vomiting and it can take over your thoughts. This fear impacts your life beyond just feeling afraid. It can prevent you from relaxing, participating in social activities or eating complete, nutritious meals.
Emetophobia is a “specific phobia” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Specific phobias cause anxiety and panic attacks after exposure or anticipated exposure to the thing or situation you’re afraid of.
If you feel like you have to vomit or witness vomiting, you may be afraid of:
Emetophobia is rare. It affects 0.1% of people around the world. It’s more common among women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) than men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB).
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If you have emetophobia, when you hear about, see or experience nausea or vomiting, you may feel the following:
This can cause the following symptoms:
If you have emetophobia, you might do certain things to address your fear. Since you may not feel in charge of your body when you vomit, you might feel at ease if you prepare for any situation that might involve vomiting. These behaviors could include:
Signs of emetophobia include avoiding:
You may also:
Most cases of emetophobia happen after a negative experience with vomiting. For example, you might develop emetophobia if you:
Triggers are things or events that cause symptoms. Triggers of emetophobia may include:
Emetophobia is a vicious cycle. This means the symptoms you fear (nausea and vomiting) occur together with your anxiety about it. This can make the symptoms feel worse.
Complications of emetophobia may include:
A provider will diagnose emetophobia through a thorough series of questions about your history, experiences and symptoms. Usually, your persistent fear and anxiety about vomiting happen for at least six months in order to be diagnosed with emetophobia.
Your healthcare provider will likely use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a publication by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose emetophobia. Your provider will also rule out any other physical or mental health conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
In general, phobias have at least four criteria for diagnosis, including:
Treatment for emetophobia may include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy to help you manage the thoughts and behaviors around your fear. Through conversation with a mental health professional, you’ll discuss:
CBT takes time and patience. It can be difficult to open up to a new person to discuss your feelings. You’ll confront uncomfortable situations and memories that you’d rather not think about. Remember that your mental health provider is there to support you and help you reach your goals.
Exposure therapy is a way to reduce your fear by slowly reintroducing you to your triggers in a controlled setting. This reduces your anxiety and desensitizes you to the fear of vomiting over time. Exposure therapy for emetophobia may include:
Exposure therapy happens in steps. You won’t be able to move on to the next step until you feel comfortable with the first one. The final step of exposure therapy for emetophobia is simulated vomiting. A healthcare provider won’t make you vomit. Instead, they’ll provide you with textured or mushy food (like creamed corn or baked beans). You’ll take a spoonful of the food item and then spit it out into a toilet or trash can to mimic what vomiting would feel like. This is often the most difficult part of exposure therapy. You’ll likely practice exposure therapy techniques in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy.
Medications aren’t usually used to treat specific phobias like emetophobia. But sometimes, medications can temporarily help relieve symptoms of fear and anxiety to treat your phobia when you’re going through psychological therapy or in situations that are unavoidable. These medications may include:
Talk to your healthcare provider about the possible side effects of these medications and follow their instructions to take these medications as directed.
You may start to feel better after beginning therapy or taking medications as prescribed. Your phobia won’t go away overnight. It could take several months before you feel comfortable with your fear enough to face it. There isn’t a set amount of time for each person to feel better after treatment for emetophobia.
There’s no known way to prevent emetophobia.
Having a phobia may seem overwhelming, but treatment can help you reduce your fear and anxiety. Treatment can lead to an improved prognosis. Your care team will teach you ways to adjust your thinking and behaviors around vomiting. Without treatment, emetophobia can impact your mental and physical health in addition to your ability to socialize and engage with your loved ones.
If you notice a fear is taking over your thoughts, behaviors and your ability to feel well, talk to a healthcare provider. Treatment is available for emetophobia.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s normal to be grossed out by vomiting. Sometimes, a negative experience with vomit changes the way you feel about it and it can take over your thoughts and behaviors. If you feel that your fear is preventing you from engaging in specific activities or interfering with your physical and mental well-being, contact a healthcare provider. Treatment for emetophobia is very effective to help you feel better.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/03/2023.
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