OCD Center of Los Angeles California
OCD Center of Los Angeles

Emetophobia and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Sunday, December 13th, 2009 Phobias


The OCD Center of Los Angeles often receives calls from people seeking treatment for various phobias.  One of the most common phobias we treat is emetophobia – the intense fear of vomit and/or vomiting.

Most people who call us with emetophobia are initially quite surprised to learn that this problem has a name, and often equally surprised to learn that they are not the only person in the world to suffer with it. Often, they have secretly struggled with emetophobia for years.  Some have been misdiagnosed with anorexia or depression, and as a result, have wasted years being inappropriately treated for conditions they don’t have.

While the primary fear in emetophobia seems quite simple (the sufferer is terrified by the possibility of vomiting, and/or the possibility of seeing others vomit), the individual’s response to this fear can become quite complex.  Often the person with emetophobia spends hours every day focused on monitoring and controlling how their gastro-intestinal (GI) tract feels.  As a result, every meal becomes a battle to ensure that they never feel any GI discomfort such as gas, cramps, fullness, nausea, etc.  In practical terms, this often means having very restricted diets because the client is afraid of any food that they believe may possibly lead to any GI distress.  This also often means that restaurants, parties, and family gatherings are simply off limits, as the client may fear eating even “safe” foods any place but home.

In many cases, the client has adopted numerous non-food based avoidant strategies in an effort to ensure they never experience any GI distress.  This can include avoidance of television programs or movies with images they fear will cause GI distress, not driving or flying, and avoidance of socializing with friends whom they associate with the possibility of GI distress.

Unfortunately, family and friends of people with emetophobia are often dismissive of the suffering experienced by the individual with this sometimes crippling problem.  Equally problematic are family members who enable and accommodate the problem, which usually results in a worsening of symptoms.

Fortunately, emetophobia responds extremely well to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  While this treatment requires a strong commitment on the part of the client, the results can be life changing.  If one is willing to challenge their fears, they can, over a relatively short period of time, regain normal eating habits, and put an end to the avoidant strategies so commonly seen in emetophobia.

•Tom Corboy, MFT, is the director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related conditions, including Emetophobia.  In addition to individual therapy, the center offers six weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment.  To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.

LinkedInTumblrGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksDiggOther Share Sites

Tags: , , , , , , ,

58 Comments to Emetophobia and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  1. I’ve used EMDR successfully with a young teen girl suffering emetophobia which was interfering with her school attendance. We replaced the initial belief “Vomit is disgusting and dangerous” with “Vomit is disgusting but not dangerous.” Treatment resolved very quickly!

  2. Judy McKinley on December 14th, 2009
  3. Judy,

    Thank you for your reply to our post about Emetophobia.

    I was trained in EMDR in 1995, and I have always seen it as a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I read a study a few years ago that found that the primary factors in change in EMDR were the behavioral exposure (in this case, exposure to the thought of vomiting), and the cognitive restructuring (in your example, the reframe of “Vomit is disgusting but not dangerous.” I think that, regardless of what we call the technique, the key is to change our response to the fear, both cognitively and behaviorally.

  4. ocdla on December 14th, 2009
  5. I have a 10-year-old client with emetophobia which is very likely causally related to the death of her sister a little over a year ago from a brain tumor and very aggressive treatments. Though I am working on her case from a number of angles (grief, fear of loss of mother, difficulty expressing her sadness (it is ugly and smelly, perhaps like vomit), I do not see the possiblity of using CBT on someone this age and with this history. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated

  6. Judith Gusky on December 15th, 2009
  7. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by schizotypal_guy: Emetophobia and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – OCD Center of Los Angeles (blog) #ocd http://bit.ly/55nTZ5

  8. uberVU - social comments on December 15th, 2009
  9. Hi Judith,

    There is no reason you couldn’t use CBT with this ten-year old girl. We have successfully treated children as young as six. Obviously CBT needs to be adapted to the cognitive and developmental age of the child, but that is true for all therapeutic approaches.

    If a child is capable of being aware of their thoughts and actions, they can respond to CBT. The cognitive goal would be to help the girl learn to challenge the thoughts that vomit is horrible and/or dangerous. The behavioral goal would be to help her develop the ability to not avoid situations in which she fears the onset of thoughts, feelings, or sensations that are vomit-related.

    Tamar Chansky has two great books about CBT for OCD and other anxiety disorders in children:

    Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child’s Fears, Worries and Phobias.

    Freeing Your Child from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Powerful, Practical Strategies for Parents of Children and Adolescents.

    I highly recommend both.

  10. ocdla on December 16th, 2009
  11. Thanks for the feedback and recommended resources.

  12. Judith Gusky on December 22nd, 2009
  13. I think CBT can work for most people with the commitment and drive to see it through. In fact, I’d think it could be very effective with young people whose minds are less set in their ways.

    P.S. I’m not a doctor…

  14. Anxious M on January 13th, 2010
  15. Something unfortunate about emetophobia specifically is that many people suffering from emetophobia don’t even realize that their condition is a real phobia, and then fail to ever seek treatment such as cbt.

  16. Emetophobia on November 6th, 2010
  17. I need something that’s gonna cure me cause at the moment it has got to the point were everynight I sit and cry my eyes out I start having panic attacks cause I am terrified of being sick. I need help but wanna know if it will work for me.

  18. mandy on April 4th, 2011
  19. I had emetophobia since I was 6 years old. If someone was sick, I was cry, hide, leave the house. As I got older, I started having a hard time focusing in school, because I was too concerned about the person not feeling good 2 desks down from me. I eventually dropped out of high school.

    I wouldn’t listen to songs that played when I was sick, I wouldn’t eat foods that I had at one point been sick after eating. I refused to vomit, ever. I trained myself not to. I avoided going anywhere someone might be sick and I even stopped pursing my dream of being a nurse.

    I had children; and would run if they were sick. I couldn’t comfort them because I would panic. Unfortunately, this behavior has caused my daughter to be an emetophobe as well. However, with CBT and hard work and dedication; I am beyond it.

    Does it still bother me, yeah. It’s gross..but I’m not going to die and I”m not automatically going to catch something if someone is sick. I can hold a basin at work if someone is ill and I’m fine. I can mop up if my kids are sick, wash my hands and go eat dinner. It’s taken a long time. I still think about it.. I still worry if I am in public about “what if I’m going to be sick”. You know, I make sure I know where the bathrooms are and I always have water with me or gum in my mouth and I can enjoy being out with my family. It will get better, if you put in the hard work and dedicate yourself to the process…you can get through it.

  20. Steph on August 26th, 2011
  21. Hi Steph,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with Emetophobia. I am glad to hear that you have had success using CBT. This is a very treatable condition, and hopefully your story will encourage others to seek treatment.

  22. OCD Center of Los Angeles on August 27th, 2011
  23. My 19 year old son suffers from emetophobia. I am not sure which path of therapy he should take; EMDR or CBT. He has an appointment tomorrow with a pshychiatrist to be put on an anti anxiety med and then both a sched. appt with a CBT therapist and a EMDR therapist at later dates.

  24. Ann on September 21st, 2011
  25. As one who is trained in both CBT and EMDR, I can say with confidence that CBT is by far the best approach. EMDR is actually considered a type of CBT, and it has become popular with therapists because its developer markets it as a quick fix for PTSD. Unfortunately, many therapists have taken to offering it as a miracle cure for just about everything. But here’s the thing…there are no miracles. Effective treatment for emetophobia is work, and there is no miracle cure. I strongly advise you to seek treatment with a CBT specialist.

  26. OCD Center of Los Angeles on September 21st, 2011
  27. My 11 year old daughter has had emetophobia for 2 years now. We’ve been with 3 different therapists now. Our current one is wonderful. The first used CBT on her…it didn’t work. We used another one that used EMDR…that was a joke. Our current therapist used some CBT and exposure therapy. It was wonderful. Our daughter graduated from the program. Unfortunately she has gone back to some of her bad habits and we are back in therapy. I would say, find a GREAT therapist if you can. It seems that some sort of slow exposure is key (cartoons and words to start). Learn that the things that we avoid aren’t going to harm us in the end and we aren’t in danger…that sort of thing. Good luck. It takes time and constant monitoring as we’ve found out.

  28. Amber Bohnet on November 1st, 2011
  29. Hi Amber,

    Thank you for your comments. It sounds like you are doing a great job of staying on top of your daughter’s Emetophobia.

    You are absolutely correct that “slow exposure” is the key to effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Emetophobia. The formal term is “graduated exposure”, and it is almost always a necessary component of therapy when treating children (and adults) with phobias. Being too aggressive in forcing kids to face their fears often leads to a significant worsening of the problem.

    As for EMDR, I completely agree with your assessment of its value. I was trained in EMDR back when it originated in the early 1990’s, and I never use it. Unfortunately, many therapists have been trained in EMDR because its training seminars are so heavily marketed. As a result, many therapists offer it to clients as a quick fix, but its utility in treating phobias is quite limited in my experience.

  30. OCD Center of Los Angeles on November 6th, 2011
  31. My youngest daughter is 8 years old.She threw up about a month ago and is still freaked out about puking.On a daily basis. The last time she threw up before this past experience was when she was 4 so she doesn’t remember it. Thing is she threw up only one time this past event and was fine the next day. But everyday she will ask us at least 30 times if she’s gonna puke. It’s disrupting her school life and the stinking counselors are asking her questions like….”Hmmm…is anything “Bad” happening at home that is making you feel like this? Is there anyone touching you?” Oh come on man……She threw up and is freaking out. That’s all. Geeze. We need help. If anyone has some they can verbally help us with it would be grateful. We live in Hawaii so resources are limited. I do not do well reading books and other peoples diagnostic papers published. I do well with bottom line information.Straight to the point information. She does not have OCD or any other issues. She was fine before she threw up a month ago and now if freaked out daily. I don;t want her loosing weight because she thinks she’s gonna puke if she eats. HELP PLEASE! Thank you

  32. Nicole on November 27th, 2011
  33. Nicole,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I’m sorry to hear that your daughter is experiencing difficulties. While I cannot provide a diagnosis via an online forum, I can say that the symptoms you describe suggest Emetophobia. The good news is that this is a rather recent development for her, and she will likely respond well to a brief course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

    Your best bet is to find a therapist who specializes in CBT. While finding a good CBT therapist may be difficult, it will be well worth it. I suggest you go to http://www.adaa.org and http://www.ocfoundation.org. Both provide searchable databases of CBT therapists who specialize in treating anxiety disorders such as Emetophobia.

    I am not sure which island you are on, but you will most likely need to travel to Oahu. If you are unable to find a CBT specialist and the problem worsens, you may need to visit the mainland for a few weeks with your daughter for a short course of intensive CBT.

    I hope this helps.

  34. OCD Center of Los Angeles on November 28th, 2011
  35. Thankyou so much for your site. My 10 year old has massive issues with people vomiting – whether it be a cartoon or movie or real life – and just recently wouldn’t go to the movies with my mother in case there was something on the big screen to do with vomiting. After finding your website, it seems to me that she may have Emetophobia, and to be able to pin point her issues has taken such a load off my mind. I will definitely be seeking help via CBT. Thankyou once again. I can now see there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  36. Samantha (from Australia) on November 30th, 2011
  37. Samantha,

    Thank you for your comments. I’m glad our article helped you identify your child’s Emetophobia. This is a condition that is too often overlooked or misdiagnosed by doctors and therapists. The good news is that Emetophobia is very treatable using CBT – there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

  38. OCD Center of Los Angeles on December 2nd, 2011
  39. I’m 44 and suffer from emetophobia. For many years I’ve had a very mild form of this condition, but it started progressing rapidly after my daughter got sick with norovirus a year ago. I can’t imagine how CBT can possibly help me. I realize that vomiting is common and not dangerous, that most other people are not bothered by it, etc., but this doesn’t make it any less significant for me.
    I cope by trying to minimize exposure to situations that might result in me vomiting or witnessing others vomit. However, I find all the information about norovirus terrifying because it’s something I feel I can’t control. I’m becoming an expert on norovirus, but the more I read the more it scares me. Can’t wait for the vaccine, which I think is the only means to relieve my phobia.

  40. Lisa on January 20th, 2012
  41. Hi Lisa,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Your experience of having mild emetophobic symptoms that were exacerbated by a specific trigger (in this case, your daughter being sick) is quite common. Unfortunately, the behaviors you have been doing in response to your increased fears are almost guaranteed to worsen your symptoms.

    Your avoidance of anything that you fear might make you vomit (or see others vomit) is a classic phobic behavior. While that may provide short-term relief, in the long term it reinforces your belief that vomiting is something you can’t handle. Additionally, you mention becoming an expert in noroviruses, which indicates that you have been researching the issue, which will only make things worse.

    I encourage you to try therapy with someone who specializes in CBT for emetophobia. You will most likely see significant improvement in a very short period of time.

  42. OCD Center of Los Angeles on January 20th, 2012
  43. Hi. My daughter, who is now 11 has been suffering from emetophobia for over two years now. She is seeing a wonderful therapist and takes medication for her anxiety. She is starting to have separation anxiety during the day and we are taking it slowly. I also have had this condition since I was a kid so I know how she feels, however I had the stomach flu recently and had to vomit for the first time in over 25 years. I must say it was an awakening. I felt so much better after and I just accepted it. It’s not fun, but it was just something that I had to do to feel better. It was over in about 1 minute. I wish that my daughter could see that for all the nights she has been suffering her anxiety and thinking her “what if’s,” she has been sick only 2 times these past two and a quarter years. For those of you with loved ones or suffering it yourself, definitely seek out a good therapist that specializes in CBT for emetophobia. Invest the money. It’s worth it! Also remember, “It’s just fear. Accept it. Don’t try to make it go away. It will pass. It always does. Your job is to make yourself comfortable.”

  44. Amber on February 3rd, 2012
  45. Amber,

    Thank you for your comments. I am glad to hear that your daughter is getting CBT, The same principles that have helped with her emetophobia should be equally effective in helping her learn to manage her separation anxiety.

    I am equally happy to hear about your “awakening” in response to your recent bout of stomach flu. As you learned, vomiting is not catastrophic, and in fact, you actually felt better afterwards. Most of the things we humans worry about are not nearly as awful as we think.

  46. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 4th, 2012
  47. Hi Sir. I m 19yrs old.

    I vomited four years back in a restaurant where I along with my friend was having dinner

    After that I have constant fear of vomiting in places like restaurants(where I have to eat in front of friends), social gatherings(where there is arrangement of dinner etc.)

    But when I eat outside along with my family members or other people who know my problem, then eating outside is quite ok and I can have food of my choice.

    Sometimes before entering into the classroom I also feel the same. Due to the fear of throwing up I dont have breakfast when goin to college even then sometimes I feel like vomiting. Sometimes I vomitted in the college too.

    And it is completely fine with me when I eat at home. At home I dont have any fear of throwing up.

    I went to several doctors and they told me that I m suffering from anorexia nervosa, depression, social anxiety etc. and gave medicines that didnt work.

    I want to know am I suffering from emetophobia??

  48. Omar on February 5th, 2012
  49. Hi Omar,

    Thank you for your comment.

    While I cannot provide a diagnosis via email, the symptoms you describe are consistent with those of Emetophobia. It is quite common for individuals with Emetophobia to have restricted eating patterns, and to have certain situations in which they feel less significantly anxious about vomiting (i.e., with people who know of your fears).

    From what you have written here, I cannot see how any doctor or mental health specialist would identify your problem as being anything other than Emetophobia. Unfortunately, most physicians and psychotherapists do not understand this condition, and it is often misdiagnosed. If at all possible, I suggest you find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, as Emetophobia is very treatable using basic CBT.

  50. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 5th, 2012
  51. THANK YOU for this site, and your comments. I am 37 years old, and have suffered from severe emetophobia for as long as I can remember. I have since passed it on to my 12 year old son also. :-( I live in Michigan, and am DESPERATE to find a therapist that practices CBT therapy, but the only insurance I have is Medicaid. I am not able to find a therapist through the OCD website you recommended that accepts Medicaid. I am desperate to find some relief from this phobia. It has progressively gotten worse over the years, I avoid certain situations, and I am afraid of losing my job now because of my debilitating fear. Like I said, I only have Medicaid, and can’t afford treatment otherwise. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God Bless.

  52. Julie on February 18th, 2012
  53. Hi Julie,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I don’t know of any therapists in Michigan, so my best suggestion is that you search for phobia specialists in your area. As for Medicaid, my best suggestion is that you try to contact someone at Medicaid for guidance.

  54. OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 19th, 2012
  55. Hi,

    I’m glad to have finally found the name of what I have always thought to be “my weird phobia.” I’ve suffered with this since age 6, have never had children, fearing my phobia will affect them. I’m 30 now, and with CBT and DBT therapies Ive gotten slightly better, but not a lot. I have a hard time with television and movies (unless pre-screened by a friend/family) though I have returned to fairly normal eating habits. Most days anyway. I was diagnosed with PTSD later. Doctors believe that the first trauma was when I was 5, when my sister suffered a concussion. EMDR has been offered, as well as ECT, and I’ve unfortunately been thrown back with other traumas, including the unwanted, rapid exposure that has set me back, I’m at a loss. With PTSD, an the intense phobia, coupled with being on SSDI meaning Medicare an a hard time with finances, I don’t know how to keep going in therapy. CBT and DBT have not helped…trust that I want every bit of help, I just don’t know what to do anymore.

  56. Jennifer on August 22nd, 2012
  57. Hi Jennifer,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Many people with Emetophobia spend years thinking they are the only person with their “weird phobia”. But in fact, Emetophobia is a fairly common problem. Furthermore, its impact on your eating habits and your ability to comfortably watch certain TV shows and movies is also common.

    As for treatment, I encourage you to find a true cognitive behavioral therapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Anyone can say they they are a specialist, but you will likely need someone who really specializes in anxiety treatment. I would avoid EMDR (full disclosure – I am fully trained in EMDR, and I never use it as I believe it is mostly smoke and mirrors). And ECT should be completely off your radar for Emetophobia. CBT with graduated exposure will be a lot of work, but it is the only treatment that has consistently been found by peer-reviewed research to be effective for phobias.

  58. OCD Center of Los Angeles on August 25th, 2012
  59. Thank you, it helps to hear that EMDR an ECT are not viable options. I’m tired of “suffering” as I know many understand, an have always felt as though I get thrown back a few steps every time someone gets sick, tv, movie, or life. There are components I understand well, I’ve read A LOT, and I WANT an have wanted help an to “get better” for years. Thank you, for at the very least steering me in the right direction, and giving me the name of the phobia I thought I was alone in. Bless you all that care, understand, sympathize, empathize, an don’t judge. I cannot thank you enough, an to everyone and anyone suffering, you are not alone. There’s hope, there’s help…

  60. Jennifer on August 26th, 2012
  61. Hi thanks for your article,
    I have felt that I’ve always had a fear of v, from about age 7 when I first v. But it’s gotten worse over the years, now I’m 17 and I have v quite a few times from viruses/food poisoning and the experience only made it worse. Now I refuse to eat out/ touch my food with my hands. Often I feel nauseous for no apparent reason and in these cases I start shaking uncontrollably.
    I was just wondering if you knew any places in Melbourne Australia that could treat me? I know there is a hypnotherapist near me but I’m not sure if that would work…
    I really don’t want to undergo systematic desensitization/ graduated exposure – (are they the same thing?) because I don’t want to actually vomit at the end of it .

  62. Sara on September 29th, 2012
  63. Hi Sara,

    Thank you for your comments.

    The symptoms you describe are textbook examples of symptoms of Emetophobia (obsessive concern with the possibility of vomiting, avoidance of touching food or eating out). I notice that you use the letter “v” rather than writing “vomit”, and I am guessing that is also an avoidant behavior.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has consistently been found to be the most effective treatment for most phobias, including Emetophobia. Systematic desensitization and graduated exposure are both types of CBT, but they are somewhat different. I encourage you to seek treatment focusing on graduated exposure therapy, which does NOT mean you will be required to vomit.

    Unfortunately, I do not know of any anxiety / phobia specialists in Melbourne. That said, we offer CBT services online. You can learn more about our online treatment program at http://www.ocdla.com/telephone-online-therapy-ocd-anxiety.html.

  64. OCD Center of Los Angeles on October 1st, 2012
  65. Hii , i have had this phobia ever since i was little. im 14 right now and im still kinda suffering from it. when i was little i would vomit a lot and now that i got older i was think its gonna happen again . it started getting bad ever since i was 11 and its the worst thing ever. i cant eat . im scared to go out with friends. and whenevr i feel a little bit nauseous i get a panic attack and start shaking and im always thinking about throwing up even if i feel fine. i havent thrown up since i was 8 . but it still scares me. this is taking over my life and im sick of it . im desperate to fix this. i feel like im a freak and wierd. i just wanna be a normal teenage girl. i bet im the only teenager girl who has panic attacks and somtimes doesnt eat for days. i need help :”( my parents get mad everytime i have a panic attack :”( i just need someone to help me please.

  66. Clarissa Carrasco on October 24th, 2012
  67. Clarissa,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Unfortunately, many parents don’t really understand how much their children with anxiety are suffering. Your parents need to get educated that this is a serious problem and that getting angry at you for having anxiety and panic issues is not an effective way to handle the situation. Perhaps you could show them our Emetophobia article so that they can better understand what you are experiencing. Then they should seek treatment for you with a therapist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for anxiety.

    Finally, you should know that you are not alone. We have treated hundreds of teens with anxiety problems, many of whom have had Emetophobia. This is a fairly common problem, and it is very treatable.

  68. OCD Center of Los Angeles on October 27th, 2012
  69. I’ve had emetophobia for as long as I can remember and I only found out a couple of yrs ago that this fear actually had a name. I’m 25 years old now and I feel like I’ve gotten better over the years but sometimes I think might just be better at avoiding situations in which I’d have to face it. I hate the fact that it constantly interferes with my life and the thought of it is always with me. I’m scared of having to deal with my phobia…I want children and it worries me that I might have morning sickness but what scares me most of all is not being able to help my kids if they get ill. On top of that I hate this fear so much I would never want to take the chance that my kids would grow up to have the same phobia. I want help I want to get rid of this fear can u refer someone to me that is in my area I live in st Hubert Quebec canada. Thank you

  70. melanie on December 19th, 2012
  71. Hi Melanie,

    Thank you for posting your comment.

    All of the concerns you mention (Emetophobia interfering with your life, your fear of morning sickness, your concern that your kids will one day learn this same phobia from you) are quite common in Emetophobia. But the problem with avoidance as a coping strategy is that your life will, over time, shrink further and further until you will be avoiding almost everything. In fact, it is not unheard of for those with Emetophobia to eventually become agoraphobic.

    Unfortunately, most therapists do not even know the term Emetophobia, and have no idea how to treat it effectively. I do not know of any Emetophobia specialists in Quebec, and I believe you would have a difficult time finding one. If you are open to online counseling, we would be happy to provide treatment. You can learn more about our online therapy program at http://www.ocdla.com/telephone-online-therapy-ocd-anxiety.html.

  72. OCD Center of Los Angeles on December 20th, 2012
  73. Although vomiting is never a pleasant experience, I have developed an intense fear of it over the past several years. Unfortunately it is hard for me to be home with my children out of fear that they may get the stomach bug. There was an instance a few years back when my husband had a stomach bug and I had to leave the house for several days in order to prevent getting it myself (or my children catching it). I am constantly thinking about the stomach bug and it absolutely terrifies me. I try my best to prevent it by washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer and avoiding people/places that may present a risk in getting sick. Even just hearing or reading about somebody with a stomach bug creates so much anxiety. I have been diagnosed with OCD and have sought out treatment for it (I’m actually currently in treatment, but the fear of the stomach bug is just so strong).I’m scared of any illness, but the stomach bug absolutely terrifies me. Can’t continue life in so much fear. Need of some serious help!

  74. Tricia on January 8th, 2013
  75. Hi Tricia,

    I apologize for the delay in responding.

    The symptoms you describe are text book Emetophobia symptoms. Furthermore, your response to your fear of vomiting, especially the avoidance behaviors and compulsive washing, point to just how similar this condition is to OCD.

    Unfortunately, avoidant and compulsive behaviors only work in the short term, and actually reinforce your fears over time. I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for anxiety disorders, as CBT has consistently been found by research to be to be the most effective treatment. If treatment in Los Angeles is an option for you, feel free to contact us.

  76. OCD Center of Los Angeles on January 20th, 2013
  77. I as well have this horrible fear. Im almost 21, and 2 years ago I started suffering panic attacks. I thought it was all just anxiety until I saw a hypnotherapist and did a regression where my main fear was losing control and being trapped. My fear of vomiting got to the stage where I lost all my friends and couldn’t leave the house and became depressed. As well as my fear of being sick I also have a fear of fainting which comes back to loss of control. I am seeing a psychologist now and doing CBT which is slowly helping, I have the attitude now though where I am determined to overcome this. This is a really great forum.

  78. Christie on March 3rd, 2013
  79. Hi Christie,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad to hear that you are getting help from a therapist who specializes in CBT. It is the treatment that has consistently been found by research studies to be the most successful approach to managing anxiety issues such as Emetophobia. Keep at it and you should see good results.

  80. OCD Center of Los Angeles on March 4th, 2013
  81. I am 11 years old and I have been emetophobic for about 2 years now. The last time I “v”ed, it was at a church retreat and I was in a bunk bed. I now avoid church retreats, bunk beds, certain foods, movies or shows with v’ing in them,and sick people at all costs. My brother is autistic and has a tendency to over-eat and then v, and I lock myself in my room and start crying. I never want to have kids for the fear of morning sickness during pregnancy, and I get anxious and scared if:
    Some one may or already has v’d
    I may or have v’d
    I can’t swallow well
    My stomach makes a weird noise
    Someone gets the hiccups- the noise scares me.
    When I say “scares me”, I mean I start shaking and my brain goes into overdrive going through worst-case scenarios. I mentally break down, and it feels like I am in danger- my amygdala goes nuts. Then I found out I have GERD, or acid reflux disease. Now my food choices are even more limited, even without my fear added. I need help :( (P.S. I eat regularly, so I am at a normal weight and I participate in sports, but I cannot stand eating out- but my diet consists mainly of toast with peanut butter and honey and Frosted Flakes.)

  82. Elizabeth on June 15th, 2013
  83. Hi Elizabeth,

    You sound like a very bright 11 year old – you just need to get the proper help to move beyond your Emetophobia. I encourage you to discuss this issue with your parents. If they don’t take you seriously, show them our article on Emetophobia, and explain to them that the article describes what you are experiencing. Emetophobia is very treatable with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Take care.

  84. OCD Center of Los Angeles on June 16th, 2013
  85. Our 12-year-old daughter has suffered from emetophobia since she was 7, but it was not until recently that we realized she was suppressing it (following it’s appearance at age 7). Due to a serious trigger a couple of weeks ago (friend got sick in the car), she has spiraled from an occasional cringe at the thought to all-out generalized anxiety as well as separation anxiety (from me – won’t let me out of her sight much). We started therapy with a psychologist on Friday, and know what to expect of the CBT – but I’m just wondering if this will be sufficient, or how often people need to be simultaneously treated with anti-anxiety meds to get past this initial resulting generalized anxiety. She is terrified to get in the car and go anywhere – won’t sit in rooms that have carpet (for fear that if she gets sick, it will leave a stain that will remind her) – and like I said, can’t be away from me. We’re working on “exposures” for all of those things, and like I said, just began therapy, so I know we have a lot of work ahead. Just wondering whether or not most of these cases can resolve without meds – her anxiety is SO high right now, it’s so hard to see. But I also know that it’s important to face each fear AND the anxiety it induces in order to learn how to bring that anxiety down to a zero. Any thoughts are appreciated on when meds are indicated versus not. Thank you!

  86. Julie on June 23rd, 2013
  87. Thank you very much for responding, I believe I am getting a little bit better, but every time I think I am getting over it, I will see a bit of a movie with v’ing in it or some one will overeat and start burping a lot, and then all of the “getting-over” I had been doing plummets. I am also worried that my parents don’t really believe in Emetophobia and will get angry at me for having such a ridiculous fear. My mother is a nurse, and she will give me a lecture about how v’ing is just a natural part of life, and then that will just remind me I will have to go through this again in life no matter what. My dad especially gets annoyed when he sees me looking up home remedies for acid reflux if Tums didn’t work, and he calls me a hypochondriac. Actually, I am the only person in my family who only gets sick (like with a cold or something- not sick sick” only about one or two times a year- I am very healthy. Could you please try and tell me a good way to tell my parents what I have and how this is an actual problem? Thank you.

  88. Elizabeth on June 24th, 2013
  89. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I am a licensed psychotherapist, not a physician, so I cannot give medical advice. That said, I strongly encourage you to see how things progress with therapy. As you noted, your daughter just started treatment within the past week. Emetophobia can absolutely be effectively treated without meds using CBT.

    My only caveat to you is that you must have a therapist who truly specializes in CBT. Any therapist can say they use CBT, but unfortunately, many therapists have no idea how to treat Emetophobia. If your daughter’s psychologist is just going to do talk therapy, and try to throw a few CBT ideas into the mix, you will almost certainly be disappointed with the results. If a course of CBT with a true specialist doesn’t produce results after a few months, you may then want to speak to a psychiatrist about whether medication may help.

  90. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on June 24th, 2013
  91. Hi Elizabeth,

    I’m sorry to hear that your parents are not taking your concerns seriously. As I mentioned in my previous reply, I believe you may need to show your parents some information about Emetophobia. If our article on this issue doesn’t get them to take your suffering more seriously, then you might need to show them other resources you find on the internet as well. Unfortunately, parents are sometimes resistant to accepting that their children have these types of anxiety problems. But I trust they are good parents at heart, and that they will eventually realize that your suffering deserves attention.

  92. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on June 24th, 2013
  93. Thank you for the advice, my parents are now taking me seriously, and I am going to try to tell them about CBT and how it would help. Thank you for all your help.

  94. Elizabeth on June 28th, 2013
  95. Hi Elizabeth,

    This is great news. I’m glad to hear that your parents are starting to realize that your anxiety needs to be addressed. Take care.

  96. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on June 28th, 2013
  97. Thank you ;)
    I am so much better now, and I have taken little steps that help me get over emetophobia, like going to a sleepover with my friend, allowing myself to eat as much as I want to, and even getting bunk beds. I am seeing my doctor in August and talking to her about CBT options.

  98. Elizabeth on July 25th, 2013
  99. Hi Elizabeth,

    That is wonderful news. I am glad to hear that you are taking steps to face your fear directly, and that things are improving for you. When you see you doctor in August, be very direct about your Emetophobia, and about your desire to have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Take care.

  100. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on July 27th, 2013
  101. Hi there. I am a thirty y.o. emetophobe. Until this year, it had been almost a decade since I threw up. I have a very strong stomach and have rarely felt nausea, but after my only experience drinking too much, I stopped drinking more than a drink or two in a sitting, and I often leave parties when people start to seem drunk out of fear that they will vomit around me. This past year, I had an experience with drug-induced nausea and vomiting. Since then, I have periodic episodes where I wake up feeling sweaty or nauseous, and my anxiety over my nausea makes it infinitely worse. Sometimes I can calm myself down, and the nausea goes away, but even when I can I am often afraid of going back to sleep lest I wake up with nausea again. It’s making it hard to sleep, and I don’t know what to do. I’m interested in CBT, but I feel like I need a more immediate solution as well so I don’t continue to lose sleep and feel bad. Any advice?

  102. Clara on October 30th, 2013
  103. Hi Clara,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Unfortunately, your story is par for the course for Emetophobia. Your avoidance of drinking and parties has served you well in the short term, but in the long term, your avoidance has greatly contributed to your renewed fear of nausea and vomiting. It was just a matter of time before you would need to face this issue, as nausea and vomiting are normal parts of the human experience. To put it as simply as possible, you can run but you can’t hide from nausea and vomiting.

    Your current problem appears to be that your fear of vomiting has resulted in a fear of falling back to sleep when you awaken with nausea. You say you want an “immediate solution”, but there is no such thing. Even if you took sleeping pills, you would still have the fear of sleeping (the pills may help you sleep, but they won’t help you with the fear of sleeping). My advice is to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders with CBT. It may not be “immediate”, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the quickest and most effective approach to managing Emetophobia.

  104. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on November 12th, 2013
  105. Hi, my 8 year old daughter has been suffering with emetophobia for 8 month, since she had a standard stomach bug.In the first 2 months she lost so much weight through not eating that she was hospitalized for a week. Since then she has been having weekly CBT and things have improved dramatically – she is gaining weight, increasing her variety of foods and no longer has anxieties about clothes and other items she was convinced would make her ill. But the last week she has had a massive relapse – refusing to eat certain food, constantly complaining of stomach ache , and begging me to take her to hospital. Does this happen with CBT ? I am at my wits end thinking we are back to square one !

  106. Melanie on June 12th, 2014
  107. Hi Melanie,

    Thank you for your comment. I am happy to hear that you sought out CBT for your daughter, as this is the best approach to managing Emetophobia. It is important for your to know that you are not back at square one, and that lapses are a normal and expected part of the recovery process. With effective CBT, she will get back on track. Take care.

  108. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on June 17th, 2014
  109. My emetophobia started at age 10. I’m turning 40 soon. I put myself back in therapy almost 3 years ago when taking care of my 3 children became too overwhelming when they were sick. Things have improved with some EMDR and hypnosis, but I feel stuck now at a plateau I can’t push through. Today, my doc and I discussed the next best step. She thinks EMDR and I think exposure therapy even though that terrifies me. What advice would you give to a clinician who has been trying very hard to help me? I am so torn on whether to give up trying or keep at it. I don’t know how much more therapy I can take.

  110. Valerie on August 16th, 2014
  111. Hi Valerie,

    You are right and your therapist is wrong. Three years of EMDR and hypnosis has provided you with enough evidence that they are not providing you with the relief you are seeking.

    Exposure therapy is the best approach to Emetophobia. That said, there is nothing to be afraid of. People have the idea that exposure therapy is some sort of horrible torture, and that is not the case. With a compassionate, well-trained therapist using CBT, exposure therapy will be mildly unsettling, and will lead to significantly less fear of vomiting. I encourage you to click here to read our article on exposure therapy.

  112. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on August 19th, 2014
  113. I have had a longstanding battle with a possible undiagnosed emetophobia most of my life. At age six I dropped off the charts in weight and refused to go out in public for fear of getting sick. Public events requiring eating led to anxiety attacks. After many Drs incorrectly diagnosing me with acid reflux, I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease and went on the gluten free diet. I regained my weight, however I did not go on living a normal life. Eating in restaurants and eating before any big events are almost impossible due to past trauma of getting sick. I am a 19 year old female who has recently made the transition to college and have began to lose significant weight, again. Each outing is anxiously planned around how I can quickly exit if I were to get sick. Does this sound like emetophobia? I’m at my whit’s end and more dietary elimination doesn’t seem to be helping what could be a mental issue. If so, very interested in CBT.

  114. Cassie on January 11th, 2015
  115. Hi Cassie,

    Thanks for your comment.

    While I cannot provide a diagnosis via a blog comment, everything you write sounds consistent with Emetophobia. Your are extremely fearful of getting sick, and your daily choices are being dictated by that fear. The fact that you are losing weight as a result suggests that you should seek out treatment before you develop more significant weight related health issues. The difficulty is going to be finding a therapist who specializes in Emetophobia. Unfortunately, as you have already discovered, many physicians and therapists are clueless about this condition and how to appropriately treat it. If you would like to discuss treatment at our center, please contact one of our client coordinators via our website at http://www.ocdla.com.

  116. Tom Corboy, MFT ~ OCD Center of Los Angeles on February 12th, 2015

Leave a comment

6 + 7 =


Switch to our mobile site