Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting, others vomiting, or the effects of vomiting. It is from the greek word “emesis” meaning vomit and “phobos” meaning fear. The reason we call it hidden is because it is so little known. Virtually everyone has heard of phobias in children like fear of needles or snakes. However, people are often surprised this is a phobia. The reason we call it an epidemic is because it is far more widespread and debilitating than one would expect.
Like any phobia the fear, when triggered, can be overwhelming. When something triggers a fear response, one thing the body does is shift its resources to parts of the body needed for defense. The digestive system is not needed for defense so that shift can result in stomach discomfort. So unlike many phobias, a child’s body becomes a trigger for the fear. The fear and attempted solution results in actions or symptoms such as these:
- Avoiding contact with anything associated with vomit or things that could lead to vomiting
- Avoiding words, images or sounds associated with vomiting
- Asking over and over for reassurance of not being sick
- Restricting kind or amount of food to prevent throwing up
- Monitoring feelings in throat, esophagus and stomach for signs of nausea
- Avoiding activities that could lead to dizziness or overheating
- Increasing anxiety at any sign of stomach distress
It can be hard to diagnose in children because even though you can tell your child is anxious, when you ask your child about it, he or she may not disclose key details. This is because they don’t want to talk and/or don’t want you to talk about it for fear that will lead to being nauseated.
Like any anxiety problem it can range from a mild problem to major impairment. I suspect (opinion only) that if you included mild to moderate problems along with the most distressing cases, sufferers would be in the tens of millions. This is a frequently misdiagnosed problem as well. I know of a few cases that were mistakenly diagnosed as eating disorders. Sometimes it is thought it is a panic disorder.
Recently 20/20 did, in my opinion, a long overdue segment on this debilitating disorder. Here is the link. An expert in the field, Anna Christie, shared the results of a survey of the literature with me and she found only 30 published articles that focused primarily on this. There may be more but the point is that is microscopic compared to research on other anxiety disorders.
Because it is so common and debilitating, we decided to do a supplement to the Turnaround program that addresses this problem. Building on the step-by-step process we lay out in the program, we lay out specifics to help your child overcome this. Here is a link to our supplement. Here is an excellent blog post on what treatment is like from a mom’s point of view.
Recent update: Dr. Russ has written an interactive children’s book on emetophobia. It is for use on Apple devices. It is only offered for sale through Apple Books. Check it out!
Help for Kids With Fear of Throwing Up or Getting Sick: Part 1 Explanation
Help for Kids Afraid of Throwing Up or Getting Sick: Part 2 Treatment – Exposure
Help for Kids Afraid of Throwing Up or Getting Sick: Part 3 Treatment – Safety Behaviors
Help for Kids Afraid of Throwing Up or Getting Sick: Part 4 Treatment – Hierarchy
Jenny Whittle says
Can you advise whether you have released the emetophobia supplement.
David Russ says
We are waiting on some narration that we hope will be recorded soon. Once that is complete, we will make some minor final edits and it should only be a few days after that.
Tracie Bacon says
I have a daughter that suffers from Emetophobia. She is currently in counseling and on Zoloft, but her phobia is getting worse. I am super concerned about her health because it is resulting in anorexia. I really like her counselor, but I don’t think she specialized in Emetophobia, and I have tried to look on lists and cannot find anyone that specializes in this phobia in my area. I am not sure what I need to do, but my poor girl really needs help. Please let me know how I can find her treatment solely for Emetophobia. Thank you.
David Russ says
Hi Tracie, iocdf.org is a good site to check for clinicians. The site is about OCD but you treat both kinds of anxiety very similarly. Here is a specific referral site: http://www.emetophobiahelp.org/therapist-list.html. We offer a supplement to Turnaround specifically for emetophobia on our site as well.
Susan Traikovich says
I have a daughter who is 12 and has suffered from Emetophobia since the age of 5. I have tried so many counselors, psychologists and even had her on Zoloft for 2 yrs. I have purchased the full turnaround program with the emetophobia supplement. I saw your post and was wondering how your daughter is doing and if you can offer any other ideas on how I can help her. She is starting to show signs of picky eating and avoiding any certain foods.
She is having a very hard time sleeping with repeating the same phrase “Am I going to throw up, I’m not going to throw up am I?”
I’m am very happy with the turnaround program so far but just wanted to know if you found anyone that can help her.
My daughter is 14 and has this all over she is really bad no school no leave the house feels sick all the time I need help