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What is Emetophobia?

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/29/2011

Emetophobia is one of the most common phobias around yet it is hardly talked about, or even commonly known, possibly because it is a fear of something that is extremely unpleasant and embarrassing to all. We’ll take a close look at the definition, symptoms, and causes below.

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    Definition

    According to the International Emetophobia Society, emetophobia is the fifth most commonly occurring of the many clinically defined phobias that plague a certain percentage of our society today. Simply stated, it is defined as the fear of vomiting - “etmos” is the ancient Greek word meaning “to vomit.”

    Emetophobia sufferers are afraid that they themselves will vomit or be around others who might. Like all phobias, it is an irrationally based fear, and even when the person knows they are being irrational, they still can’t control their phobia. This intense but illogical condition can also be wrapped up in the fear of feeling nauseous, hearing someone vomit, or actually seeing the vomit itself even if it's on TV or in a movie.

    Someone casually mentioning that they feel a little sick to their stomach can trigger a phobic episode. This condition can appear at any age. This phobia may be closely tied in with food and may be acutely intertwined with both eating disorders and the mental illness obsessive compulsive disorder. The situations and settings where an emetophobic may perceive that vomiting is more likely to occur include:

    • long car rides
    • public transportation because of unsanitary or unsightly conditions
    • hospitals
    • being pregnant especially due to the chance of morning sickness
    • food contamination in restaurants or supermarkets
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    Symptoms

    Fear, terror, anxiety, and dread revolving around thoughts of regurgitation can all be common and prevalent symptoms of emetophobia, especially when the person perceives they’re in a situation where it could occur. This fear might actually result in feelings of nausea and stomach pain as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

    They will lack the ability to clearly focus, driving themselves into frenzy and to the brink, or actually into a panic attack. The following is a list of more specific symptoms:

    • Trembling, shaking
    • Tachycardia or exceedingly fast heartbeat
    • Shortness of breath, breathing difficulty
    • Dry mouth,
    • Dizziness
    • Sweating excessively
    • On the extreme side and usually dependent upon other factors of the sufferers’ health, it can even lead to heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or pneumonia
    • Obsessive thoughts about germs, expiration dates on food, and the need to know the location of the nearest bathroom.
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    Causes

    As with many questions about the causes of phobias, the easy answer is that emetophobia resulted from an extremely bad incident - either in childhood or adulthood that seared the negative experience into memory. In this case, that incident was vomiting or extreme nausea - either the action of it happening or the witnessing of someone empty their stomach.

    Therefore, the individual will go to great lengths to try and avoid re-experiencing what they felt at this time. And of course, to most people, vomiting is a repulsive occurrence privately and mortifying in public. But to the emetophobic, a long night of vomiting or the fear of doing it in public even if it never happened before brings on symptoms that are so severe that they disrupt their quality of life. If you are someone you care about suffers from it, you should take a look at some of the ways to deal with emetophobia.

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    References

    U.S. National Library of Medicine

    International Emetophobia Society

    Simple Phobias Guide: http://www.simplephobiasguide.com/fear-of-vomiting-phobia.php