Emetophobia — the fear of vomiting — is a specific phobia. It can also be a symptom of another anxiety disorder or OCD.

Most people find vomiting unpleasant, though typically the discomfort rises quickly and passes just as fast. But for some people, the fear of vomiting can become a phobia that affects your ability to function. It’s especially common in children and adolescents.

An illness can trigger this phobia, such as a particularly bad stomach bug, appendicitis, or COVID-19.

Emetophobia can occur on its own, but it most commonly develops along with other conditions, like an anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

If your or your child’s fear of vomiting lasts for over 6 months and is disruptive to daily life, a mental health professional may diagnose emetophobia.

Emetophobia is an intense fear of vomiting that is chronic and persistent. It may also include a fear of:

  • feeling nauseous
  • seeing or hearing others vomit
  • seeing vomit

Typically, emetophobia begins in childhood or early adolescence. A 2017 study puts the mean age of emetophobia onset at 9–10 years old.

Emetophobia may be more common in females. A 2013 study suggested that emetophobia may be 4 times more prevalent in females than males.

Is emetophobia a mental health condition?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), emetophobia is considered a specific phobia.

Emetophobia can also be a symptom of another mental health condition, such as OCD.

Symptoms of emetophobia may include:

  • a chronic fear of vomiting or seeing others vomit
  • anxiety about vomiting or seeing others vomit
  • avoidance of situations where vomiting could occur
  • certain food restrictions due to fear of becoming nauseous or vomiting
  • compulsively checking expiration dates or food labels
  • nausea
  • intrusive thoughts

OCD and emetophobia

Emetophobia may occur simultaneously with OCD or may be a symptom of OCD in some people.

Avoidance and checking behaviors associated with OCD may be common with emetophobia as people may try to avoid vomiting, coming into contact with vomit, or witnessing others vomiting.

People with OCD who also have emetophobia may experience intrusive thoughts about vomiting. As a result, they may develop rituals designed to avoid the risk of becoming nauseous and vomiting, like:

  • carrying a container in case they need to vomit into it
  • ritually checking expiration dates on food labels
  • looking for specific ingredients they believe might make them vomit

Some people with emetophobia may develop a fear of vomiting after an illness that caused severe vomiting, or after watching a loved one go through such an illness. This might include a bad stomach bug or appendicitis.

Children and teens who already have an anxiety disorder or OCD may be at greater risk of developing emetophobia.

Emetophobia can be diagnosed as a specific phobia when the fear of vomiting causes chronic, disproportionate anxiety about vomiting that significantly impacts your life. Only a doctor or mental health professional can diagnose emetophobia.

According to 2017 research, emetophobia exists on a spectrum of intensity involving different degrees of discomfort and disruption. Experts say this can make the specific diagnosis of emetophobia challenging.

Though distressing, people can manage emetophobia with the right treatment plan.

The gold standard therapy for specific phobias, including emetophobia, is exposure-based therapy. Medication can also be helpful in managing symptoms.

Exposure therapy

People with emetophobia often strive to avoid situations they fear might make them vomit, and may isolate themselves in an attempt to remain “safe.”

According to 2017 research, exposure therapy may be a successful treatment method for emetophobia.

In exposure therapy, a mental health professional exposes the person to something they fear or avoid in a safe environment. This exposure helps to reduce the person’s fear and avoidance responses.

With emetophobia, exposure therapy may involve gradually introducing things like:

  • certain foods or beverages
  • smells
  • sounds or images of someone vomiting

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that “re-trains” the brain to view potentially activating experiences in a different way to lessen fear or anxiety.

CBT for emetophobia may involve helping you approach, rather than avoid, anxiety-inducing situations related to your fear of vomiting. It also helps you challenge your beliefs or fears regarding vomiting.

Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. It can be a symptom of other conditions, such as OCD.

Anyone can develop emetophobia, but it’s most common in children in teens and often develops in adolescence.

Emetophobia can be disruptive to your life in many ways, but it’s possible to manage and experience full remission with treatment. Typically, treatment plans for emetophobia involve different types of therapy and sometimes short- and long-term medication use.

If you or a loved one is living with emetophobia, a visit to a doctor or pediatrician is often the best first step. To connect with a therapist who has training in treating phobias you can check out Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource.