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Why all the fuss about emetophobia?

By Lori Riddle-Walker, EdD, MFT

Emetophobia, also known as specific phobia of vomiting, is a chronic and complex phobia that can have a significant impact on functioning.

Avoidance is a common coping strategy, but it can decrease quality of life.  Common avoidances include: social or family events where there is drinking, certain restaurants, public transportation, amusement parks, flying, ill family members or coworkers, children in general, or avoiding starting or expanding a family due to the potential for morning sickness. Significant weight loss, taking unneeded medication, or avoiding medical treatments that cause nausea or vomiting are some ways emetophobia can negatively impact health.

The suffering associated with emetophobia can be immense. Many report that thoughts and images of vomiting plague them daily and that panic attacks are common occurrence.

What makes it different from other phobias?

Even though emetophobia is categorized with other phobias in the DSM V, unique elements of this fear necessitate special treatments.

  • Often emetophobics report intrusive thoughts and images of past vomiting episodes relating to themselves or others that must be addressed for effective treatment.
  • Emetophobia often includes somatic or body symptoms such as nausea, choking or gagging sensations or other symptoms that are triggered by anxiety; however, at times a sensitive gastrointestinal system or other medical issues can complicate matters even more.
  • Safety behaviors are a common element of emetophobia. Safety behaviors are behaviors done to reduce anxiety and fear but actually maintain the phobia. Examples include reassurance seeking, mental planning, taking unneeded medication, lying or sitting down, reciting phrases, to name a few.

How is emetophobia treated?

Like other phobias, emetophobia can include extremely high levels of anxiety or panic symptoms upon exposure to reminders of vomiting. Also like other phobias, very gradual exposure to people, places, or things that have been avoided is an essential part of treatment. However, clients may refuse any aspect of exposure that they do not feel ready to face.

Properly trained therapists can work with each client to help them meet their own treatment goals, supporting them as they move forward, and helping them to manage anxiety as they move toward wellness and the life they want to live.

Learn more about treatment here.

Lori Riddle-Walker, EdD, MFT, is a private-practice clinician in the San Diego, California area specializing in treatment for phobias (including emetophobia), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and OCD spectrum disorders in adults, adolescents and children. Lori is also the owner of VPhobia.com.

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