Understanding Emetophobia

There isn’t anyone that particularly enjoys feeling or being sick but for those with Emetophobia, vomiting, seeing it, watching it, feeling it or even being sick cause enormous distress.

Ongoing distress of any sort can have a big impact on daily living. For those whose phobia is feeling or being sick, the notion of eating out is horrendous. Some pay to avoid driving or travelling because of their fear. Others cannot use public toilets for fear of someone being sick whilst they are there or even themselves becoming unwell.

Although Emetophobia often feels overwhelming, the condition can be treated with the support of a therapist.


Emetophobia Symptoms

Having emetophobia can make you make significant efforts to avoid any situation where you might witness or possibly be sick. You may build your days entirely around avoidance.

Other symptoms and behaviours include:

  • Restricting/eliminating foods and food groups you associate with vomiting
  • Eating slowly, small amounts of specific foods or avoiding eating in public
  • Not touching surfaces, doors or handles that could have germs which may lead to illness
  • Excessive washing and cleaning of your hands, foods, and utensils
  • Avoiding alcohol or medication that may cause nausea
  • Limiting the places and times you are out of your comfort zone, such as school, crowded places and utilising public transport.

These types of behaviours are often driven by mental health symptoms such as:

  • Fear of seeing a person vomit
  • Worry of needing to vomit but not being able to find a bathroom
  • Panic of being stuck in a crowd with no easy exit route
  • Anxiety and distress when feeling the slightest bit of nausea
  • Persistent thoughts linking an event/situation from your past involving feeling or being sick

It is important to bear in mind that we all experience phobias differently. Some may worry more about being sick than seeing it, and others may worry about not escaping when someone is vomiting.

They know their phobia isn’t rational, but be aware that telling them this is extremely unhelpful and damaging, leading to feelings of shame and guilt and even furthering their mental distress.

What Causes It?

Phobias that aren’t learnt tend to develop following an incident or traumatic event. With emetophobia this may involve experiences of:

  • Previously being sick in public
  • Having recovered from an illness such as food poisoning
  • A baby or individual having vomited on them
  • A particularly distressing film or television show
  • Panicked whilst being sick, causing the sensation of choking.

The condition can also develop with no clear cause, which has led experts to believe genetics and environment may play a role in its development.

It often begins in childhood, and it is not uncommon for the adult of the former child to not recall the triggering event. (Treatment should be sought regardless of memories).


Extreme fear and anxiety surrounding a particular situation or object are typically diagnosed as phobia when the stressors negatively affect daily life.

Often criteria include:

  • Active avoidance of situations that may trigger
  • Significant fear/anxiety response that happens instantly after seeing, feeling, or thinking about vomit
  • Symptoms that last longer than 6 months.


Symptoms can manifest as OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be misdiagnosed. It can also mimic agoraphobia in individuals who refuse to leave their homes for fear of what might happen in public places.


Not all phobias require treatment, and in some cases, people find practical ways to work around them, such as not doing a gardening job when you have a phobia of insects. Some who fear lifts take the stairs, and for those who do not like deep water, attending a splash pool rather than swimming in the sea.

In general, it is a good idea to seek support for a phobia if it is in any way affecting the quality of your life or you have thought about how much better your life would be without this hanging over you.

Most people benefit from some form of exposure therapy and systematic desensitisation therapy, including hypnotherapy and CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy).

Exposure Therapy

For Emetophobia, exposure therapy involves working with a therapist to slowly expose yourself to the phobia. This may involve eating food that once made you nauseous whilst being guided with techniques to help you cope and manage anxiety levels.

Systematic Desensitisation

If the above sounds overwhelming, considered desensitisation. This type of exposure therapy works by tackling your fears over several sessions until the fear becomes invalid in your life.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT teaches you to learn how to identify, challenge and diminish negative thoughts that cause distress. This therapy also explores exposure therapy for phobias that allows you to explore your feelings and teaches you positive coping mechanisms.

The Out look?

Emetophobia can impact hugely on a person\’s day-to-day life. Still, non-medicated treatments are available to help reduce anxieties and distress to lead a much more fulfilling and richer life.