Emetophobia

A person with this phobia will usually be anxious and nervous whilst around sick people, wondering if they’ll vomit.

Emetophobia (from the Greekεμετός, to vomit, and φόβος (phóbos), meaning “fear”) is an intense, irrational fear or anxiety pertaining to vomiting. This specificphobia 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.[1] Emetophobia is clinically considered an “elusive predicament” because limited research has been done pertaining to it.[2]The fear of vomiting receives little attention compared with other irrational fears, yet it is the fifth most common phobia.

According to experts, emetophobia can be triggered by a single traumatic event, such as a long bout of stomach flu, accidentally vomiting in public, or having to witness someone else vomit. This fear can be triggered at any time and at any age and is not specific to a gender or demographic. Interestingly, most people with emetophobia rarely, if ever, vomit. Some sufferers report that they have not thrown up since childhood, yet they constantly worry that it might happen.[3]

Etymology and Definition

The root word for emetophobia is “emesis,” from the Greek word emein which means “an act or instance of vomiting”[4] with “-phobia” meaning “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.”[5] 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. 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.[6]

Causes

Like all fears and phobias, emetophobia most commonly develops from a childhood fear that has never been outgrown. When a traumatic event is witnessed to a young child the subconscious mind, as the body’s ‘protector’, works out the best way to prevent the incident repeating itself. The way this works in practice is that the subconscious attaches negative emotions or feelings to vomiting and in future this teaches the person to steer away from ‘dangerous‘ situations.

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. In a clinical case study by Dr. Frank M. Datillio of Harvard Medical School and the Perelman School of Medicine, he refers to cases from the 1980s that reference how a number of children who are affected by emetophobia are mentally disabled. He quotes Barmann’s findings and says “[many of these children have] a history of self-stimulatory hand-mouthing and ruminative vomiting.”[6] Dr. Datillio also illustrates how many adults are affected through the results of gastrointestinal surgery.[6]

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.[6] 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 ananxiety reaction.”[6]

Usually this phobia is compounded by several others, making it necessary to deal with each phobia individually in order for the patient to recover fully. For example, it is common for emetophobics to also suffer from a fear of food, known as cibophobia, where the sufferer worries that the food they are eating is carrying pathogens that can cause vomiting. As such, people will develop specific behaviors that will, in their minds, make the food safe to eat, such as a ritualistic type of washing. In time, these fears can become so ingrained that the person who has them can begin to suffer from anorexia nervosa.

  1. Lipsitz, Joshua D., et al. “Emetophobia: Preliminary Results of an Internet Survey.” Depression & Anxiety (1091–4269) 14.2 (2001): 149-52.
  2. ^ abcdDavidson, 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.
  3. ^http://phobias.about.com/od/phobiaslist/a/emetophobia.htm
  4. ^http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emesis
  5. ^http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phobia
  6. ^ abcdefghFrank 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.