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by Ken Goodman, LCSW
Fear of vomiting emetophobia

If you have a fear of vomiting, just reading the title of this article might make you a bit queasy. The mere mention of the "V word" might send you into a state of anxiety. If you can relate, I encourage you to press on despite your worry, so you can take the first steps to overcoming it.

Emetophobia?

No one enjoys vomiting and everyone thinks it’s disgusting, but most people are not afraid of it. But if you suffer with this type of phobia (specifically known as emetophobia), you are not only repulsed by the idea of vomiting, you fear it. Many people say that the anticipation of vomiting is often worse than the act itself.

And because you don’t know when it will happen, you are constantly on guard, rearranging your life to ward off any possibility of puking.

What Causes Nausea?

Stomach discomfort and nausea can be caused by motion sickness, a stomach bug, food poisoning, excessive eating or drinking, food intolerance and…anxiety!

That’s right. Anxiety and worry can cause stomach discomfort and nausea. And if you don't vomit when you’re anxious…you won’t!

Treatment Works

Treating vomit phobia is best accomplished through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP). Treatment involves correcting faulty beliefs, reducing avoidance, and confronting challenging situations step-by-step. You are given tools, a new perspective, a winning mindset, and a strategy for facing your fears. Your motivation for ending your suffering is important because the therapy does take time, hard work, and courage. You must have self-discipline and determination to win. And if you do…you can beat emetophobia!

Also by Ken Goodman:

Additional Resources:


About the Author

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Ken Goodman, LCSW, treats anxiety and OCD in Los Angeles.  He is the author of The Anxiety Solution Series, a step-by-step audio program, and Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers. Ken Goodman is an ADAA Clinical Fellow. Visit his website. 

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Now available- Ken Goodman hosts an ADAA webinar on "Overcoming the Fear of Vomiting." Watch the video on ADAA's YouTube channel.

 

    I think I have this phobia. Not very strong but I known exactly how it feels. I'd rather die than throw up, seriously. I remember being much worse when I was younger. I would freak out whenever I heard the word vomit, I would start to panick whenever I would get a stomach ache, I would try my best to avoid people who are nauseous. I would even get anxious to get on the school bus when we had to go do outdoor activities!

    I'm glad it's gotten better. Though I must say it's been a while since I haven't been sick. Let me tell you one thing though.

    Last year, while I was on a trip, I was starting to feel sick. I was shaking, I was really freaking out. But then I told myself. Why are you freaking out? What's the worse that could happen? You just, let it out, you'll eventually feel better. I let myself go. I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn't.

    I know some people won't be able to read this, but I hope that someway, you could find a way to rationalize this fear. It could make your experience less.. daunting.

    Hi, thanks for sharing your story. It's amazing how one fear can affect the entire scope of your life. If you have a fear of elevators you can avoid elevators the vast majority of time, but the fear of vomiting can be much more pervasive. I like the way you respond to the fear by asking yourself, "what's the worst that can happen. If I throw up I'll feel better." Anxiety is very tricky. When you feeling nauseous you believe you will vomit even though you never do. It's similar to the person who feels dizzy and believes they will pass out even though they never do. Or the person who feels his heart race and believes he's having a heart attack but has been told by his doctors multiple times that his heart is strong. Don't be fooled.

    Thanks for all of your tips I have this phobia and it stops me eating for a while I usually get so scared and start shaking and looking anxious Ive got it now so im going slow only eating curtain stuff at a time

    I have the exact same issue. It's a big problem and consumes my entire life. It's good to know I'm not alone with these symptoms. My advice: distract yourself. Call up a friend or loved one. Call a therapist. And don't starve yourself. When you don't eat, you feel worse. Tell yourself, "I'm not gonna be sick I am not going to be sick." Until you beleive it.

    I have a really bad phobia of being sick.
    Every night when I go to bed the thought of "what if I wake up through the night and need to be sick" goes through my head. I get really anxious if I'm home alone and feel the slightest bit unwell or have a sore stomach, I freak out if everyone's in bed sleeping yet I'm lying wide awake most nights shaking, crying, nauseous.

    It ruins every day life for me, I'll cancel plans, not go to college, get scared to go in the car even just to the shops incase I need to throw up, travelling long distances, eating food, going out drinking because I'm terrified that I may be sick with the hangover.

    May sound dramatic to some people but it is close enough to ruining me being able to live my life how a teenager should. I just wish it would go away.

    I was having a panic attack bc I felt like k was gonna puke. I texted my mom and she helped me but I was shaking like crazy and it was st 2am so no one was up but luckily my mom was. I’m 13 F and I’ve had this phobia for a long time I haven’t puked in 7-8 years and ever since the last time I puked I’ve been scared since and I hate the phobia!

    Hey I’m 15 and have had this phobia since I was about 8. I have super bad anxiety and panic attacks which lead to having the feeling of Vom... I hate that word. I am so terrified that I shake and walk around trying to calm myself. And I’ve notice these only normally happen when I’m laying back in bed ar night trying to fall asleep. I feel the most that helps is talking to someone and getting my mind off of it. Glad I’m not the only person who has this.

    IT happens to me way to often. why does walking around help though ?

    omg im so relieved im not the only one with this fear. i has stopped me from being a normal teen, and it is literal hell. i go to sleep shaking and praying i dont throw up, even tho i dont even get sick like that. i just want it to go away. and im so terrified of stomach flus, viruses, sicknesses like that.

    I also shake when some says they don’t feel good or they think they are going to get sick I mostly shake whenever they get sick and it mostly happens in school I get anxiety because I feel like I’m trapped in a room with someone who might get sick and I can’t do anything to stop it. I’ve had this ever since I was a kid I’m not sure why this happens to me but I’ve read so many things and they are about them having a fear of themselves getting sick but nothing of others getting sick.

    I’ve always thought I just had a weak stomach but it’s not just that. I fear the words used to describe it too. I enjoy going on rollercoasters but I worry the entire time someone will get sick. When I was little, this kid got sick at one my favorite restaurants so I would tell my family I wanted to eat somewhere else because it brought back the awful memories. I hated going to elementary school because at least twice a week someone would get sick. I would ignore the person who had gotten sick because it brought back all of the feelings of disgust and anxiety. I start to shake and feel sick to my stomach when someone even talks about it. I’m in my twenties now and really hope someday I’ll get over this phobia. It’s awful.

    where i live it’s just beginning to get into the big season and at school I often hear people say they feel sick. As soon as i hear the word i tense up and start to panick that it’s going to happen. just today on the bus someone threw up and i was full on crying my eyes out in front of everyone. What makes it worse is that everyone was telling me that it wasn’t that bad and that i was being a baby. It’s annoying because if they had a phobia they would think the same thing as me! I’ve had a shower and now i feel a lot more relaxed but i don’t want to get on the bus EVER again, or even look at the boy who was sick . :( However, i already feel more relieved now that i’ve read some of these comments, it’s shown me how so many people are just like me.

    I feel this soo much, everyday of my life my whole brain is consumed with this thought. Like right now i’m sitting on my bathroom floor listening to the shower run trying to calm myself down. I often avoid most meats and things that could give me food poisoning and literally start to tremble,anytime someone says they don’t feel good i automatically ask them what’s wrong and if they feel sick. My therapist and family doesn’t understand at all they just embrace it and say it’s not that bad. I would rather die then do it and that sounds like a lot !

    I honestly relate to this so much. I have had this phobia for many years not but it has slowly gotten worse and worse as I have gotten older (I'm now 22). It consumes my thoughts no matter what I am doing or where I am. I have cut out so many things from my diet as well like meats and other things that I have heard are common for carrying bacteria and that cause people to get food poisoning purely because I am so afraid that I will throw up.
    Recently though it has gotten even worse. I've always had anxiety about throwing up but a few months ago I was driving late at night and I started feeling really sick and was stuck on a road where I could not pull over and I started having an anxiety attack and thought I was going to throw up that I ended up turning off the first chance that I could even though it was way out of my way because I was so scared that I was going to throw up and I didn't know what to do because I was by myself. Even though I didn't throw up, ever since then my anxiety around throwing up has gotten so much worse. I can't drive on that road anymore without feeling like I'm going to throw up and having an extremely bad anxiety attack and I cannot drive any long distances or anywhere by myself because I'm so paranoid about it. To make matters worse whenever I feel the littlest bit sick or even think about it my anxiety kicks in which then only makes me feel even more sick so its a vicious cycle.
    I'm honestly at a loss right now because I'm too scared to go anywhere or do anything because I start to get anxiety and feel sick and I feel so bad because I feel like it's impacting on my family and close friends more than ever even though I try to hide it wherever and whenever I can but sometimes it gets so bad that I have to walk out of somewhere or leave or I start having an anxiety attack and I have to tell someone because weirdly enough as I have gotten older I've found that talking it out with someone I trust actually helps me calm down more than anything else because I am able to rationalise to someone how I am aware I am being irrational and I just need some time to calm down.
    Although, most of my friends and family think that I should just get over it or that it will pass soon enough even though its been around for years.
    Sorry for this long winded post but reading yours and everyone else's posts about their struggle with it just makes me feel a little less alone in all of this, especially when sometimes you can feel like you're the only one struggling with this and for everyone else it isn't a big deal.

    I’ve had this phobia since I was 10, I’m now 30 and have a 4 year old little girl who asks me why I’m feeling the way I am. I can relate to you a whole bunch.... are you on any medication? How do you overcome that impending doom?:( it’s absolutely miserable!!!! People who haven’t experienced it do not understand that it’s a real phobia. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    This phobia has been around practically my whole life. It got extreme after i had a pretty bad stomach virus when i was 9. Throwing up for 2 whole days. I couldnt eat spaghetti for YEARS after that. Im 26 now and i havent thrown up since then.. 17 years since the last time i got sick. But the thought crosses my mind every single day. It drives me insane! I cant even hear anyone else get sick or i have a full on panic attack, god forbid if i actually see it happen. I dont quite revolve my life around it but i am always scared of it. Like im not afraid to go out and drink. I just dont ever drink too much. But im always scared ill see someone else get sick though.
    I work offshore, so i have to take a plane to get to where my boat is ( terrified of the day i see someone get sick on the plane), then i get on my ship and ofcourse im paranoid in rough weather. Ive never been seasick growing up. But the thought is ALWAYS there. I really just wish there was a way to assure myself id never have to throw up again in my life. But i know eventually itll happen again. And that terrifies me.

    I don’t know if this helps anyone, but my therapist said to imagine if you literally couldn’t throw up when you need to. If you could have a procedure done to guarantee you’d never do it again, would you? Usually we feel much better afterwards. It’s our body’s way of protecting us. We should be glad our body is functioning properly- doing its job. It’s just a bodily function like sneezing and it’s usually over with quickly.

    Oh man I cannot imagine how it must feel to deal with this all the while having your child around. That sucks so much :( It's always been a dream of mine to be a mother but it also scares me now because I don't know if I would be able to deal with it if they were to ever get sick. You're doing an amazing job and giving me hope that I can do it too one day haha. But yeah people think it is just a case of not enjoying throwing up which I have been told for so many years "is so normal, no one likes throwing up" whenever I try to explain to someone how bad it is for me. I haven't taken any medication for it as I have always been very against ever really acknowledging when something is wrong with me and am always the last person to ever take anything but I'm wondering if you have and if it has helped you at all?

    Tell me about it! I was pregnant with twins last year and on the 3rd month i felt sick EVERYDAY. Only threw up on 2 occasions and after throwing up I laid awake at night, sweating and my heart racing, thinking that it'd happen again and again. I couldn't wait for the 1st trimester to end, i just wanted to be in a coma during that time. Then when the twins were about 8 months old they fell sick. Oh my! It was dreadful; dirrhoea, throwing up, for about 4 days. During that period of their illness I couldn't eat anything. I couldnt even clean up after they got sick, my mom, being aware of my phobia, cleaned it up for me. But eventually I learned that it wouldn't be like this forever, "they'll be fine in a few days" is what i told myself. I held on for those days, just tried being a caring mom to them and soon they were back to their normal selves. I can't really determine a trigger from a younger age that caused me to develop this fear, all i know is that the act, the sound, the anticipation, the word, even writing this got my tummy turning! I hope all of us will heal from this terrible disorder.

    I worry about that all the time burn my mom says that she felt the same way when she was little. She told me that it’s different when they are actually your kids. And it’s not as bad.

    Hi. it’s currently 1:30am and i’m terrified of puking. my boyfriend threw up 30 min ago and texted me. we’ve been hanging out for the past week and i kissed him before he left my house earlier this evening. what can i do to prevent puking or catching the virus? I’m 16 and have been dealing with this for about 5-6 years.

    Hi there I feel you. But I’m a mother of three kids and wouldn’t change it. My daughter got sick tonight and I freaked out and had to take an anti anxiety pill and a anti nausea pill. I broke down knowing i couldn’t help her ( holding her hair) I couldn’t even clean up her mess. But motherhood is the best and she told me “ mom I feel better now, but next time try not to freak out!!!”” I know I’m not the only one with this horrible fear but I wish it wouldn’t consume my mind so much:(

    At night I will lay down and then get out of bed bc I feel like I am going to puke but I never do but I would love to stop this but how bc everyone asks me how come u always feel like this and I never know what to say so I will start to shake also when someone else puke I hate it and I have had this only for a year I am ten now please some people if u can realaye pls let me know what u do

    Hi Emily
    I'm 48 and have suffered with this phobia since I was young. It was not until I was 40 that I decided to seek help! (I was living a life of worry and avoidance etc). The therapy that I received was CBT. It made life much more bearable by reducing the anxiety. CBT gets you used to addressing the issue in stages, for example, just saying any words associated with it used to freak me out - by getting used to writing/saying/talking about the words you get habitualised so that the words do not carry the same amount of 'venom' (on a scale of 1-10, if the words were a 6, they eventually went down to a 0). From there the CBT moved on to pictures etc, where again you get used to them and their effect on you lessens. I used to imagine that there was this big tiger that was always prowling around me, ready to strike at a moments notice. The therapy turned that tiger into an ocelot - it could still scratch/bite and hurt, but it was not gonna kill me!!. I recently felt a bit freaked out by the phobia and so I refreshed my memory on the therapy that i'd had and it virtual instantly put things back into perspective. The therapy takes a bit of time to sink in but it helps a lot. I do believe that only a fellow emetophobic can fully understand what this phobia feels like, so having been a terrible sufferer myself I can tell you that there is hope. If you do read this and would like to chat more I would be happy to do so.

    Hi Richard,

    Thank you so much for your reply to my comment. I have heard about this therapy but doubted whether it would actually make a considerable difference to my life. Although after reading how much it has helped you I may have to reconsider seeking someone out in regard to this type of therapy. For a long time I was quite determined to overcome it myself as I hate the thought that I cannot just do this on my own but I'm starting to realise that if it helps me (and in turn those around me) and improves my quality of life then why not.
    Thank you so much for reaching out and giving me hope. I truly appreciate it!

    Hello, I have always had this phobia. One time my sister got the stomach bug when I was 8 and I had major panic attacks for the entire week that I had to stay with a family member and away from my sister. She would cry and I think that is when the fear can about. I am now 22 and I can do it when I’m really drunk and not cognitively there, however when I hear someone do it I get panic attacks and tense. Currently, i am sitting on the couch because my boyfriend had food poisoning earlier in the night and I am so scared that he is going to do it again that i can’t sleep and i now feel like I’m going to do it. My heart rate climbed to 140 bpm and I ran to the rest room, nothing came up.....but my stomachs is turning and I’m trebeling. It is effecting my relationship because my boyfriend has a rather weak stomache and when he even says he doesn’t feel well, I lose an entire nights sleep. He told me he has been holding it in because i make him feel self councious of it, even though he doesn’t fully understand the fear.

    Hi Danielle,

    It is honestly so horrible isn't it. I totally understand what you're going through. That feeling when you feel nauseous and the anxiety just makes it worse and you build it up so much that you physically cannot stop shaking and making yourself feel worse and there's not much you can do to calm yourself down. I've spent a lot of time shaking uncontrollably unable to sleep because I'm worried I'm going to be sick so I totally understand what you're going through.
    I have no real advice to offer you other than to say that you're not alone and we'll all make it through it eventually.. I hope.. haha.

    Thank you for giving me hope that this may not last forever! I have always had a fear of vomiting but it started as a fear of others vomiting. This past summer I went through a tough time and a loss of pregnancy, through that I was nauseous for almost two months. I was barely eating anything and when I did, it was crackers. It’s now six months since and I still feel nauseous at least 5-6 days a week. It has caused me to eat bare minimum, I used to enjoy food and now am terrified I will get food poisoning from everything. I count hours from when I last ate and don’t eat out unless it is the only option. If I do eat out I get something I believe to be “safe” I think that feeling nauseous and the anxiety of being sick is worse then actually vomiting. I still get the shakes and an anxiety attack, even angry when someone around me feels sick or is sick. It something I wish I could stop. It is truly ruining my life. I know I was all over with this but it is nice to vent it out because no one on my life understands, they all just tell me I’m crazy, I need to get over it and just eat and I’m tired of feeling unheard. Thank you for helping me see I’m not alone.

    Hiya. Id love to chat. I have a massive fear of vomiting and I’m a single mother. It consumes my every day life. I seriously need help with this :(

    I have this phobia and have had it since I was 9 years old(now I'm 25) I can remember every time that I've gotten sick and praying that it would never happen again. I used to fake sick for days so I wouldn't have to go to school if someone in class had just gottem sick. And it's stopped me from getting on rollercoasters or pursuing a career in nursing or teaching ( because a child or patient could get sick). My mom was in the hospital and I felt horrible that I couldn't help her while she got sick. It's miserable! Every time someone says they don't feel well I immediately pray they won't throw up. I'd prefer any other physical pain than throwing up and I can't stand it! I'm even scared to get pregnant because of the morning sickness. I'm so glad I'm not alone but I can't wait to conquer this fear. I've had enough!

    I also feel most of the same things you do, Every day at school i sit and worry and have anxiety about everything i touch and if it might have a virus on it or something. there’s also certain things i won’t eat, like i heard lettuce and leafy greens were one of the main things that people get food poisoning from so i avoid lettuce at all costs, and i love lettuce. i rarely go out to eat anymore because i only trust myself cooking my food thouroughly and cleanly. and i will have panic attacks and anxiety every day because of this phobia, i’ve had it since i had i got a bad stomach bug when i was 7 and it’s gotten worse now that ive gotten older (I’m 19). I started Cognitive behavioral therapy but only made it to the first session and slacked off on going back, i get anxiety leaving my house and while driving, hope things get better for you and everyone on this forum cause it really sucks.

    I have a huge fear of throwing up. I would rather die than throw up, which seems like a lot. I also hate it when people say they feel sick. Right now 120 people in the high school are sick. When someone says they feel sick I freeze and full on start trembling.

    I try and ask people, casually, "So, do you feel nauseous or headache or...?" If they that they have a sore stomach, I FREAK OUT! I can't believe more people feel the same way as me!

    I have this same exact phobia!!It's awful. It feels like it's taking up my whole life! I lie awake at night and the same thought......"what if I wake up in the middle of the night and vom.....I can't say it. I feel really anxious at school too.especially after lunch because I worry that I'll throw my lunch up. I NEVER actually throw up. Every time I'm anxious I feel like I'm gonna puke but I NEVER do. I feel really anxious when I'm away from my mom. I know that sounds dumb. But it isn't to me. I love my mom and she comforts me when I'm anxious. I hate this phobia!!!!!

    I couldn’t agree more, I try to make excuses not to get on the bus, I try to attend clubs so I can go home with my mum or I get on a shorter bus rout. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about it, it ruins my life and I want to get rid of it as soon as possible; I’m just too afraid to get help/counselling because I tried telling my mum and she didn’t believe me, she just laughed it off and forgot about it when I really wanted her to help me. Not sure what I would do without these webpages.

    I get the exact same thing as you! If I heard about someone who feels/is/or has been sick, I freeze up and get super dizzy. Then, if I'm at school I'll try to get my parents to pick me up!! I feel so bad, but no one gets it! I am a teen and I have had that problem for almost my whole life! I am so glad I now know what I have and how to treat it! I am so happy to know others suffer the same as me and I am not alone!

    My daughter feels the same way exactly.
    One time a kid vomitted in the her school bus and she was shaking, crying, became lightheaded and weak. Another time we were on a boat and her aunt felt nauseous and she started crying and became like crazy panicking and saying that she wanted to get out of there because she couldn't see the vomit, but we were on a boat and it looked as she was going to jump. I also remember another occasion in which I fell for a very high chair, while I was standing on a stool chair, and hit my head very hard in the concrete. I thought I was going to die and broke my skull. My daughter came to help me and brought some ice but she keep saying "please don't throw up! please don't throw up! you know I can't handle it.." I know cognitive behavior therapy is the best treatment but it is hard to find places like that around me. If anybody has other ideas of how I can help her let me know!. Thanks!

    Dear Holly
    I am nearly 39 and live in uk..I have exactly same phobia as you although I am now a nurse so am ok with looking after patients that puke. Infact I am almost obsessed with watching sometimes and use this as exposure therapy. But, what I do not want is anyone where I am staying to vom or for me to vom. Its been 20 years this year since I lost vommed. I get diarrhoea far more frequently. But the fear of vomiting makes me shake and go numb and I have to leave holiday destinations or rush home from wherever I am. The panic is awful. But I used to associate music that I heard with the time I saw someone puke and 20/30 yrs later I never forgot.

    You aren’t the only one. I’m afraid of both. If it helps, I’m
    99.9% sure stomach bugs can only be passed through body fluids, so wash those hands a LOT if anyone does end up sick. Distract yourself from the fear (try to) and maybe hum something or listen to music. It’ll all be okay. :)

    It mostly happens at school. I haven't really heard of my case, but it's the sound that triggers me. If someone in my class feels nauseous or has been sick recently, I freak out. I also freak out and try to avoid others who will potentially get me sick. In a way, I'm scared of myself vomiting and someone else doing it.

    I have had this fear since I was In kindergarten, it has been the main point in my life. In fact it surrounds it. I am severely underweight because of this. I am 17 years old and weighing only 85 pounds. It isn’t healthy but no one understands. What makes it even worse is I have a 1 year old daughter. And as I’m writing this, she is sick with a stomach bug and has thrown up 2 times. My mom bless her heart took my daughter to my aunts house for the night. I freaked out and wouldn’t even touch my own daughter I’ve tthis fear, if anyone would like to talk and understands what I’m going through please Snapchat me- sunny0uT

    I can completely relate to all of your comments. I’ve always had a fear of vomiting but it has got so much worse since I’ve had children, and since the whole family had an awful vomiting bug six months ago. If anyone even says they feel sick I get a rush of panic, and have to ask what it is (because I need to know if it’s contagious). As soon as I realise it’s not contagious I’m completely fine. It’s so hard when you have kids because they are sick all the time, and I know I need to just accept that, but I am constantly worried about it. I also stop eating if I hear someone has vomited, because I’m so stressed about it. My husband really doesn’t understand, and it’s so hard for him when he feels unwell because instead of looking after him I go into full-blown panic mode. He just messaged me to say his colleague vomited, so now I’m sitting here freaking out. It is having such a huge, unnecessary effect on my life. And I’m worried I’m giving my children the phobia - when my daughter says she has a sore tummy she then usually follows up with “but don’t worry mummy, I don’t need to vomit”. I just wish this feeling would go away. But I didn’t realise how many other people felt like this, so it helps knowing I’m not the only one.

    hi, i am also 17 years old and i suffer from this same thing so bad. i am also underweight because i never want to eat anything because in the back of my head i always think i'm gonna throw up. i have practically stopped going to school because my fear controls my life. even tho i know i'm only 6 months away from graduating i still cant get over it enough to go to school. i lay awake at night crying and shaking and i sleep with at least one light on at light i'm so scared. i never really sleep anymore because of it . whenever someone in my family is sick i always have to leave and go somewhere else. i would love to be able to reach out and talk to other people about this who suffer.