What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia is a fear of vomiting. Someone with emetophobia fears, seeing someone else vomit, themselves vomit, or more often than not both of these. It is one of the most common phobias of the UK population. Emetophobia can be extremely debilitating and even life-changing. Some of the consequences of this phobia may include a fear of germs and illness. Commonly sufferers develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder around cleanliness and take on numerous rituals in an effort to protect themselves from possible viruses and anything or anyone that has vomited or could vomit. They might also carry water, mints, anti-bacterial wipes and latex gloves ‘just in case’. Some have to check all sell-by dates on food or find it impossible to eat out. For others, the fear is so extreme that they are unable to leave their homes.

How does it start?

People with emetophobia frequently report a vomit related traumatic event usually stemming from childhood. Seeing someone vomit or vomiting themself for the first time, can be extremely unpleasant to a little one,  as the apparent violence of the act and the associated noises seem frightening. Furthermore, if the person they see vomiting is someone close, then the perceived danger is elevated, the lack of understanding as a child often leads to a belief that their loved one is about to die.

Simply being sick as a child can in itself cause emetophobia. Another cause might be witnessing a sibling/friend being reprimanded for making a mess while being sick, particularly if a parent is absent or does not deal with the situation in a calm manner. Under these harrowing circumstances the flight or flight response is activated and in the trauma of the moment, the vomit is blamed instead of the reason the person has vomited and an inaccurate negative schema against vomit is created.

Overcoming emetophobia

The great news is that emetophobia can be completely overcome. It is vital to address and alter your perception of the events that created your phobia in the first place. Once you change your perception of the thing in question, you will change how you feel. To change your life around start with these three steps.

  1. Change your perspective. Alter your perception of the installation event, see it for what it was and not how it felt and still feels. If you know that your emetophobia started in childhood, accept that your fear is based on a child’s interpretation of what happened. Would you take a child’s advice now on how to look at life and the world? If not, why not? Re-analyse the event; What actually happened? Was anybody really harmed? Updating your view of the event will help you see differently, and in turn, feel differently. If you find it difficult to pinpoint when your phobia started, we recommend you start a timeline. 
  2. Challenge the inaccurate schema with overwhelming positive counter-evidence. For example, as a baby, you often vomited and it didn’t harm you. Being sick is our first line of defence against poisoning so why fear it? If you were to ingest something toxic, a doctor would administer drugs to induce vomiting and save your life. However, a phobia is an irrational fear: sufferers will start to collate evidence to justify their phobia, so they don’t feel bad about having it. For example, they might search the Internet for stories about people who have choked on the vomit, or news of a virus outbreak. This behaviour is like exercising a muscle, which over time will get bigger, and will only cultivate the emetophobia. You have to accept responsibility for conquering your fear, so make the decision to stop feeding it. To do this you need to focus on the opposite. From today start looking at real evidence. Ask your friends and family when they were last sick, you will discover that it is rare, and when it does happen it’s for a good reason. This positive perspective should help to lessen your anxiety
  3. Challenge the habitual behaviours. Emetophobia can branch out to include more things to fear and avoid, such as hospitals, restaurants, schools and other public places. Make a list of all the objects and locations you consider high risk, then go through the list and challenge your justifications. For example, you might be fearful of doctors’ surgeries due to the number of sick people who go there. But consider this, GPs are generally healthy people who rarely take sick leave, being around sick people helps to build up a strong immune system. It is important to step out of your comfort zone and challenge your rituals too. Write down your rituals and when you feel the need to perform them, consider your list and remind yourself that the ritual doesn’t make sense and that you don’t have to do it.


Living with emetophobia can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, our belief is, ‘it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you’. With this philosophy, we believe that everyone can successfully overcome their mental health issues if given the right help and support. Read more…