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Emetophobia – Treatment, Symptoms, Causes

Definition of Emetophobia


Emetophobia is the irrational and intense fear of vomiting. It causes anxiety when one is exposed to vomiting. It may include fear of seeing vomit, fear of vomiting in public, fear of being nauseated or fear of watching other people vomit. Individuals with emetophobia may experience fear to one, some or all of these occurrences. Emetophobia comes from the Greek word “emein” and “phobos” meaning vomit and fear. Emetophobia is considered one of the most common types of phobias; however, there is only limited research on it.

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Fear of Vomiting

Aside from the actual sight of vomiting, people may also have intense fear when they hear that someone feels like vomiting or has vomited. Phobias, by definition, are always illogical, but to the person, it is always very real and present. All kinds of people may experience emetophobia. Children, adolescents and adults alike may suffer the psychological condition.

The most imminent effect of emetophobia is hiding the presence of the condition. This is because the sufferer does not wish other people to think that they are not in control of their lives. The irrational fear is recognized by the person, but they still feel that it is very real in the moment.

Symptoms and Signs of Emetophobia

Symptoms of emetophobia may include:

  • Intense fear of vomiting
  • Fear of becoming nauseated
  • Fear of seeing someone vomit
  • Fear of seeing a vomitus
  • Fear of hearing that others are nauseated
  • Fear of hearing that someone has just vomited

Once the person is exposed to any of these elements, it results in behavioral as well as physical manifestations due to the sympathetic stimulation. These include:

    • Diaphoresis

People with emetophobia, who are exposed to their fears may manifest diaphoresis or intense perspiration.

    • Palpitations or tachycardia

The sympathetic nervous system is also stimulated because of the fight or flight reaction to witnessing or experiencing vomiting. As a result, all the vital signs are increased including a fast heart rate.

    • Nervousness and shakiness

The phobia may also result in an increase of firing of brain signals to the rest of the body, leading to tremors.

    • Increased rate and depth of breathing

The breathing is also fast and may result in hypocapnea.

    • Increased blood pressure

Patients may also experience temporary elevation of blood pressure that usually subsides once the object of fear is removed.

    • Flushing and feeling warm

There will also be flushing and feeling warm, followed by a feeling of cool perspiration.

    • Increase sensitivity to stimulation
    • Mania or depression
    • Intense feeling of dysphoria

There may be intense feeling that you are out of control of your life.

The manifestations usually last until the psychological sight of vomiting is removed. Patients may continue to have recurring thoughts about the situation.

Causes of Emetophobia

The causes of emetophobia are vast. One study by a doctor at Harvard Medical School has seen other mental disabilities in people with emetophobia. Children usually have a history of hand-mouthing, self-stimulatory and ruminative vomiting.

Other studies also indicate that people with emetophobia have internal locus of control. The locus of control refers to the perception of the origin of control. Internal locus of control refers to the feeling a person has over control of things. On the other hand, external locus of control refers to the perception that things are out of their control.

Other individuals also reported history of observing someone with severe bouts of vomiting, such as among pregnant women, sick individuals and those who are alcoholics. Some may also have a history of severe vomiting during childhood.

Impact to Society

People with emetophobia usually experience irrational fear of vomiting, which makes them need to hide the presence of their phobia. Society may see these people as being irrational without knowing the course of the phobia. People sometimes withdraw themselves or other people will avoid interacting with those suffering emetophobia because they see it as a mental challenge.

Society also provides a lot of triggers for the phobia as vomiting is a normal part of human biology. Because it is a usual occurrence one that cannot be forseen or prevented at time, people with emetophobia may have impaired socializations and functioning.

Effects on life

Recent studies have shown that people with emetophobia fail to have comfort living their lives. They may have intense avoidance of things that may precipitate vomit, such as being with children, attending social gatherings (alcohol is usually served), and even becoming pregnant. Occupations that involve frequent travelling may also be avoided due to motion sickness.

Regarding pregnancy, women with emetophobia usually delay pregnancy or just simply avoid pregnancy because of fear of morning sickness during the initial months of pregnancy. As a result, women may have persistent fear especially when morning sickness is severe. Women are predisposed to miscarriage and pregnancy complications as a result of the high levels of anxiety.

People may also face problems regarding their meals. They tend to be cautious when it comes to what they eat in order to prevent sickness that may lead to vomiting. They also tend to be underweight due to the strictness of their diet. The underlying anxiety can also develop into anorexia nervosa.

Treatment of Emetophobia

There is no specific treatment for phobias, but several managements can be done to limit the negative reactions to vomiting as well as reduce the anxiety attacks. Managements include:

1. Medications

Effective medications can be administered such as antidepressants and anxiolytic drugs, such as benzodiazepines. Medications that relieve gastrointestinal symptoms, such as antiemetics may also be given. However, certain individuals also avoid taking medications because they fear that the pills may cause nausea and vomiting as a side-effect.

2. Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy may help patients cope with their phobia and allow for relaxation and diversion activity.

3. Desensitization

Desensitization is an exposure therapy that involves the exposing the person to the phobia itself in increasing intensity and frequency until the person overcomes the fear. It may start as a simple film viewing of a person vomiting and progress to exposing the person to an actual person vomiting. However, surveys with people having emetophobia reveal that they are reluctant to undergo the therapy as they are skeptical of its effectiveness.

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