What Is Emetophobia?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 15, 2023
4 min read

Emetophobia is the fear of vomit. This can be the fear of you vomiting or of watching other people be sick. This phobia can have an effect on both your mental and physical health.

Emetophobia is the fear of or anxiety around vomiting. People with this phobia are repulsed by the act of being sick, but many say that the anticipation leading up to vomiting is worse than actually vomiting. Anybody can experience emetophobia, but it is more common in women than in men.

Besides being afraid of vomit, people with emetophobia may also be afraid of certain other situations:

  • Not being able to find a bathroom
  • Uncontrolled or repeated vomiting
  • Choking on your vomit
  • Being embarrassed in front of people because of vomiting
  • Going to the hospital

The fear of vomiting, like many phobias, usually starts out small and grows until it becomes something that causes panic and anxiety. It can develop after a traumatic experience involving vomiting or for no reason at all. 

In children with emetophobia, many already have anxious tendencies before developing this specific fear.

Emetophobia may cause you to develop certain behaviors or to avoid situations. One of the biggest signs of emetophobia is that you rearrange your life to avoid the possibility of being sick. 

It’s common for people with this phobia to experience anxiety around going to work or school. A lot of strategic planning goes on to make sure that you avoid any possibility of vomiting or being sick in public.

Since you don’t know when you’re going to vomit, this causes you to constantly be on guard. To avoid any chance of vomiting, you may find that you’ve developed one or more of the following behaviors.

Disordered eating and drinking. Emetophobia may cause you to avoid trying new foods or restaurants due to fear of throwing up. You may also avoid eating or drinking things that you’ve linked with vomiting in the past, like alcohol

To make sure your food is safe, you may check it for signs of spoilage frequently, or overcook it to kill off bacteria. You may throw food away before the expiration date just in case. Vomit fear may also cause you to not eat out at all when you’re away from home.

Avoidant behaviors. Emetophobia can cause you to avoid shaking hands with people due to fear of germs. You may also avoid places where sick people might be, like crowded public spaces. This fear can cause you to avoid touching surfaces where there might be germs. 

It’s also common to avoid talking about vomit, and you may often look away when it’s shown on TV. Most importantly, you may also start to restrict your social or work life to avoid any possibility of becoming sick.

Over-preparing. As vomiting can happen unexpectedly, you might start doing things ahead of time to prepare. You may frequently look for a bathroom wherever you go, just in case. You may check your temperature often to check for signs of illness or take antacids to keep your stomach from being queasy.

Vomit fear can affect you mentally and physically as it is repetitive When you first experience the anticipation of vomiting, you look out for things that might cause it and avoid anything you think might provoke it. This can trigger more anxiety about getting sick. Worrying about getting sick doesn’t prevent it, but it does cause you to miss out on things you might enjoy.

Avoiding the things that you think might cause vomiting makes your fear stronger. As the fear grows, the problem continues to impact your life and can make you develop more avoidance behaviors. Emetophobia is actually associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) because of the similarity in symptoms and behaviors.

Being afraid of vomit and the avoidance behaviors associated with it may actually provoke the symptoms that you’re trying to avoid. Worrying and stressing about vomiting not only take a toll on your mental health, but can also cause you to feel physically sick. Stress and anxiety can cause you to feel nauseous, which then intensifies your anxiety and worsens your nausea.

Emetophobia is a common fear among both kids and adults. The best way to treat emetophobia is with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of talk therapy enables you to work with your therapist and learn new ways of dealing with your fear.

A therapist can help you to identify thoughts that aren’t helpful when it comes to being afraid of vomit. They can help you to release these thoughts and help you manage your anxiety around vomiting. 

Your therapist can also help you to correct your avoidance behaviors and give you new tools when it comes to facing your fear. It’s important to remember that it may take time to overcome your fear, but you can do it with determination and hard work.