Emetophobia – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Emetophobia is a panic fear of vomiting. It is one of the phobic diseases.

What is emetophobia?

Almost everyone fears throwing up. Nausea and vomiting are very uncomfortable sensations. However, some people feel a real panic about it just thinking about it. Fear of vomiting is present even when there is no reason at all.

Doctors speak of emetophobia in such cases. Emetophobia is counted among the mental illnesses and clearly exceeds the normal disgust of vomiting. It is considered an anxiety disorder because the people affected experience irrational feelings of fear of having to throw up.

They also have this fear when they watch other people vomit. Even films, photos or vomiting as a topic of conversation trigger fears in them. Emetophobia seems to affect women more often than men. Studies with them have shown significantly higher case numbers.


What causes emetophobia has not yet been precisely determined. However, many of those affected suffered from traumatic experiences in their childhood in which vomiting was the main focus. This could be a penalty, for example, because the child vomited in the car.

This made the child believe that vomiting made them less loved. However, numerous other patients did not have such a traumatic experience. However, they find it difficult to cope with external pressure. For them, emetophobia is merely a symptom of other psychological problems.

It is not uncommon for those affected to be trapped in a vicious circle of social anxiety and panic attacks . Many patients also have a severe eating disorder . Because they are afraid of throwing up after meals, they only eat small portions or only infrequently. Certain foods are avoided altogether.

In order to prevent vomiting, around 75 percent of all sick people only eat certain foods and check their shelf life thoroughly, as they are afraid the food could have spoiled.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Emetophobia manifests itself through both physical and psychological symptoms. The physical symptoms are similar to panic attacks. Patients often suffer from tachycardia , nausea, sweating , stomach pain , tremors , fainting spells and chills .

In addition, they are accompanied by the constant fear of throwing up. Adult and adolescent patients are often aware that their fear of vomiting is excessive but are unable to do anything about it. Instead, they increasingly restrict their professional and social lives.

Some emetophobics strictly avoid any situation that might cause them to vomit. For example, they avoid celebrations such as family celebrations, company celebrations or parties. Especially at parties where alcohol is consumed, they are afraid of possibly having to see a drunk throwing up. Affected children avoid class trips or excursions.

Traveling or driving on public transport is also too risky for emetophobics because they are afraid of travel sickness or possible illnesses in foreign countries. Eating in places other than your own four walls is avoided. If illnesses such as gastroenteritis occur in the professional environment , the emetophobic sufferers take sick leave as a precautionary measure.

Pregnancy is unthinkable for affected women. Even contact with pregnant women is avoided because they could throw up. The greatest fear of emetophobes is being locked in a room where people might vomit. Therefore, they are always on the lookout for escape routes.

They do not go to doctor’s surgeries or hospitals because they are afraid of the germs that are rampant there and cause nausea and vomiting. Patients often take anti-emetics as a preventive measure. It is not uncommon for this to lead to dependency on these drugs. On the other hand, they avoid medications that have possible side effects such as vomiting.


Diagnosing emetophobia is considered difficult. Little is known about this mental illness. In addition, only a few suitable diagnostic tools are available. A special questionnaire was developed by Dutch physicians and is used in research.

It contains a total of 115 questions dealing with the fear of vomiting and physical sensations. The patient has to answer the questions on a scale between 1 and 5. The symptoms of emetophobia, such as avoidance behavior, also play an important role.

If the patient manages to bring himself to see a doctor and undergo therapy, the chances of successful treatment of emetophobia are good. However, the patient must also have a firm will to undergo therapy.

When should you go to the doctor?

The fear of vomiting should definitely be clarified by a doctor. Only a medical examination can determine whether it is actually emetophobia. If there is a physical ailment, this must be clarified and, if necessary, treated. A psychological cause does not necessarily require therapy. However, if the disease leads to limitations in everyday life or is associated with further fears for those affected, a visit to a psychologist makes sense.

Parents who notice signs of emetophobia in their child are best advised to speak to the pediatrician . If the phobia is treated therapeutically at an early stage, subsequent disorders and further effects on the psyche can usually be avoided.

At the latest when the fear causes professional or private problems – for example, because the person concerned withdraws from social life or often takes sick leave – the family doctor should be consulted. Other points of contact are the psychologist or a specialist in phobias and anxiety disorders.

Treatment & Therapy

One treatment option for emetophobia is behavioral therapy . This involves a behavioral therapy concentration of stimuli, in which the patient is exposed to precisely the situations that he is afraid of. This means that the person concerned has to watch videos of people throwing up, for example.

They also go to parties or restaurants to finally overcome their fears. With the help of special breathing exercises and relaxation techniques , patients learn to relax better.

Outlook & Forecast

Basically, anxiety disorders and phobias are among the curable diseases. Because emetophobia is little known, diagnosing it is a major challenge for physicians. In addition, those affected do not see a doctor until late, when the symptoms are already very severe. The later the disease is recognized and the treatment can begin, the longer the path of suffering and recovery will normally be.

The vulnerability to the occurrence of other mental disorders is high in those affected and must be taken into account when making a prognosis. In the case of emetophobia, spontaneous healing is possible at any time with or without medical care. Cognitive processes or events of the usual living conditions can lead to sudden changes.

Without therapy, most patients’ well-being deteriorates over time. A steady increase in symptoms is to be expected until the quality of life is significantly impaired. Medical or therapeutic care concentrates on the existing causes and takes into account the individual circumstances of the patient. The healing path takes several months or years.

The cooperation of the patient and a good relationship of trust with the therapist are decisive for a good prognosis. Emetophobia can reappear at any time despite healing. A long illness and frequent relapses increase the risk of a chronic course of the disease.


Preventive measures against emetophobia are not known. So the exact trigger of the mental disorder could not be determined.


In the case of emetophobia, the patient only has very limited options for aftercare. The focus of this disease is therefore the direct and rapid treatment of emetophobia, so that further complications or symptoms no longer occur. First and foremost, early detection with prompt treatment has a positive effect on the further course of the disease.

Most patients require behavioral therapy for emetophobia. This is carried out by a psychologist and should be carried out until the symptoms subside. In many cases, some exercises from this therapy can also be carried out at home, which may accelerate healing.

Proper breathing and relaxation exercises and techniques can also be practiced at home to ease the discomfort of emetophobia. The patients also depend on the support of their own family and friends in everyday life. Loving and intensive care of those affected has a positive effect on the course of emetophobia. As a rule, the patient’s life expectancy is not reduced by the disease.

You can do that yourself

Regular visits to a self-help group have proven to be effective for emetophobic sufferers to cope with everyday life. For many, it helps to be able to talk about their fears with others who are affected and to exchange experiences and coping strategies.

The self-help group offers the opportunity to go back to eating in public in a protected environment, for example by going to restaurants together. The aim of the self-help group is to promote self-acceptance and acceptance and to enable an impartial handling of the topic of food again.

For some sufferers, the prophylactic use of a stomach protection drug seems to be an important option. It should be noted that preparations from the drug group of proton pump inhibitors can have risks and side effects. They should therefore not be taken over a longer period of time without a doctor’s prescription. In some cases, the symptoms can be alleviated with herbal or homeopathic remedies , the mode of action of which is mainly based on the placebo effect.

Another possibility for self-help are professional techniques for coping with anxiety, which can be learned as part of behavioral therapy . The fear of vomiting can be gradually reduced by most of those affected with consistent, regular use of these techniques. Upcoming stressful situations such as family celebrations, business dinners, etc. can be better managed.

The tactic tried and tested in the therapy of anxiety disorders of remembering positive public situations, on the other hand, does not seem to work so well with emetophobics: Unfortunately, reminding yourself that the expected event has never happened has only proven helpful for a few sufferers .

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.