Anxiety Girl: Life with the World's Worst Superpower Emetophobia: The Fear Of Throwing Up Chelsey Falco

Last week, I found myself confronting my biggest fear: vomiting. For years, I have done everything in my power to avoid throwing up, but sometimes washing my hands and chewing Tums doesn’t work. My job at a daycare leaves me very susceptible to stomach bugs, and last week I was struck down by one.

Many people don’t realize that Emetophobia is a thing. I didn’t even know there was a name for my years-long fear until I looked it up to write this article. In fact, I never knew other people shared my fear until my mom read aloud a sentence from an article she was reading. As she put it, the subject of the article was even more neurotic than me. She read me his long list of fears, and right after she read “fear of throwing up,” I stopped her and told her I had that. It was the first time I ever admitted to having this fear.

In the back of my head, I always knew I had a huge fear of throwing up, but I didn’t admit it until I realized that there were other people like me. I thought I was absolutely insane to fear vomiting as much as I did, but I’m not! While most people are disgusted by, or greatly dislike, throwing up, some of us harbor an actual fear of it that some psychologists classify as an anxiety disorder. Women tend to have Emetophobia more often than men, but it can affect anyone.

Emetophobia (which can also mean the fear of vomit) is often the result of a childhood trauma, so I tried to figure out if that was the case for me. Like countless other kids, I once threw up at school. I was in third grade and getting ready to leave the school library (is no where sacred?) when my stomach turned on me, and it was definitely one of my most embarrassing moments. Even though my classmates assured me that no one saw what happened, I was scarred. I remember the exact outfit I was wearing that day. It was pajama day, and I wore my favorite satin pajama bottoms with a Limited Too hoodie. After that day, both of those were pushed to the back of my dresser, never to be worn again. I thought that outfit was the reason I got sick, and if I wore it, surely I’d be sick again.

I knew it was ridiculous to think clothing was the reason I threw up, but I couldn’t risk it. A few months later, I had a dream that I was sick in the nurses office. In that dream, I was wearing a blue sweater and my favorite glitter jeans, and the next morning I decided my dream was predicting the future. To stop that incident from happening, I never wore a blue sweater with my glitter jeans.

My habits to prevent vomiting went further than my attire. The morning I threw up at school, I was watching an episode of The Wild Thornberrys that involved polar bears. I never watched that episode again. If it came on, I changed the channel. I did the same thing with an episode of As Told By Ginger the next time I caught the stomach bug. I took note of everything I did before I threw up, and I made sure to never repeat those actions.

Avoiding certain outfits or television episodes makes Emetophobia seem simpler than it is. For many, myself included, Emetophobia makes it nearly impossible to socialize when a stomach bug is making the rounds because we fear everyone we talk to has the bug and will either get us sick or throw up in front of us. Everyone handles their fear differently. In some cases, people with Emetophobia will develop anorexia because they become afraid of food. A lot of people with Emetophobia probably haven’t even read this far because I used the word “vomit” and its variations too many times.

There hasn’t been much research done on Emetophobia, and most of what we know about it comes from people sharing their experiences. For me, the fear of throwing up is more than just a fear of reliving an embarrassing moment from my childhood. Many of my anxieties come from my fear of losing control, and I feel like throwing up is the ultimate loss of control. One thing I know I can control is what I eat. Knowing that my digestive system can turn on me and expel what I chose to eat from my body is terrifying.

Last week, I had the stomach bug. It sucked and I hated every moment of it, but it only lasted a day. During that day, I kept reminding myself that it would eventually pass. Eventually I would feel better. Everyone eases their Emetophobia in different ways. Some people go through exposure therapy (which will not involve making yourself throw up!) or hypnosis. I’m trying to get past it by understanding it. I’m realizing that a lot of my behaviors come from that fear, such as avoiding boats and my need to carry around security items.

I’m not going to stop wearing my polka dot pajamas just because I got sick last time I wore them. I won’t blame Clueless for being on my television screen when I had to bolt to the bathroom, and I won’t blame BJ Novak just because I went to his book signing the night before. I threw up because I work around children and caught a virus from them. I could quit my job to reduce my chances of catching stomach bugs, but I would never do that. I can’t let Emetophobia control my life, and the more I understand it, the easier it is to move past my fear.

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  1. This makes me feel so much better about this fear. I have read about this before, but your description here completely explains how I feel. I have completely irrational thoughts surrounding nausea and vomiting, I too have never worn clothes or watched TV shows that I was whilst feeling very sick. Once of girl was sick in one of my classes and I was terrified to go near her for a long time. I had very bad travel sickness as a child, which I do still suffer from, which caused me so much grief and embarrassment, and I have turned down sooo many opportunities for the fear of being ill or not being in a position to go the toilet or get fresh air if I started to feel ill. This fear really has dictated the past 10 years or so of my life. So many times I have just had to leave a situation or make excuses because I started to freak out. Now everything from hot rooms to not being able to access a drink of water or tablets make me very nervous. Sometimes I can rid myself of the fear for a period of time, but something always seems to trigger it again and I go back to square one. I hope I can learn to deal with this fear one day as it is incredibly controlling. I think my fear, like yours, comes from the fear of not being able to control certain things. I hate the idea that if my body wants to be sick, there is nothing I can do to stop it, that scares me more than many more rational things. Thank you so much for writing this article, I feel so much less alone now, reading it and the comments. Man! Just reading this has got my chest all tight.

  2. This makes me feel so much better about this fear. I have read about this before, but your description here completely explains how I feel. I have completely irrational thoughts surrounding nausea and vomiting, I too have never worn clothes or watched TV shows that I was whilst feeling very sick. Once of girl was sick in one of my classes and I was terrified to go near her for a long time. I had very bad travel sickness as a child, which I do still suffer from, which caused me so much grief and embarrassment, and I have turned down sooo many opportunities for the fear of being ill or not being in a position to go the toilet or get fresh air if I started to feel ill. This fear really has dictated the past 10 years or so of my life. So many times I have just had to leave a situation or make excuses because I started to freak out. Now everything from hot rooms to not being able to access a drink of water or tablets make me very nervous. Sometimes I can rid myself of the fear for a period of time, but something always seems to trigger it again and I go back to square one. I hope I can learn to deal with this fear one day as it is incredibly controlling. I think my fear, like yours, comes from the fear of not being able to control certain things. I hate the idea that if my body wants to be sick, there is nothing I can do to stop it, that scares me more than many more rational things. Thank you so much for writing this article, I feel so much less alone now, reading it and the comments. Man! Just reading this has made my chest all tight.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this, my 8 year old daughter has suffered from this fear since she was 4, and it really impacts her life. If her stomach feels even a little off she panics, then, of course, the anxiety makes her stomach worse. It’s a vicious cycle. She’s also terrified of being around people who threw up, or say they are going to throw up. I never realized how often people just casually say “I’m gonna puke”. She hears those words and she turns white and starts to shake like a leaf. I can’t wait to tell her she’s not the only one out there who feels like this.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I have suffered with this fear since I was 6 years old. It has caused me to have an extreme anxiety disorder and I have even developed terrible Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because of it. It has truly controlled my life for years…and I don’t even know how to escape it. But I am very grateful for this post! It is so relieving to know I am not the only one.

  5. I have this same problem. Not only am I afraid of throwing up but I’m afraid of other people throwing up in front of me. This started when I was 4. My sister threw up all over me in the car and I cried and threw a huge fit. I also caught a stomach virus once and had to go to the hospital because I couldn’t stop throwing up. I freak out when I hear that people have a stomach virus and wash my hands every chance I get

  6. It’s relieving to know that I’m not the only who’s experienced this. When I was 7 or 8, I developed anxiety and vomit was a huge trigger for my panic attacks. I couldn’t be around it, period, without not being able to breathe, and just generally freaking out. Worst feeling ever. I grew out of it (the panic attacks and specific fear of throwing up) after a year of therapy and because I began to throw up quite a bit due to a tumor, so I guess you could say I was forced to face my fear often.

  7. I am so glad to see there are others out there who feel the same way I do! For years I wondered why everyone thinks vomiting is a form of comedy. There is nothing funny about it for me. I’m sure this stems from the fact that I have alcoholic parents, so you can imagine what I went through. I do not have the fear of myself throwing up, but I do fear being around others who are throwing up. This fear turns into anger a lot. My abusive ex-husband used to force me to watch a lot of stupid videos with vomit.
    A little side story here. Back in high school, my chemistry class was learning about using moles for measurement. A few classmates thought a great project would be to see how many moles of milk they could drink. Of course this resulted in a 30 minute video of them throwing up continuously. My chemistry teacher thought it was the most hilarious video she’d seen in a long time and played it multiple times. I sat in the back of the class in near tears covering my eyes and ears. I was furious.
    Thank you for writing this article!

  8. Thank you for this! I have had emetophobia for as long as I can remember. I still struggle with it and it embarrasses me when I have to leave a situation or freak out about it. I’m in college and that is often a struggle because of all the people getting drunk at parties! I normally tell the people closest to me about it in the event I can’t be in a situation anymore, but last year I trusted my roommate with this information and she wound up telling people that I hadn’t told, so my trust is sort of lost. But even more so the people I do tell don’t understand it at all and others have blatantly made fun of me. Knowing that others have it too is comforting, though. And I totally got you with the avoiding of foods and clothing and places. I cannot eat campbell’s soup,and I cannot hear “I like to move it” or watch Madagascar, among other things. The funny part is that I haven’t gotten sick since I was 11, but I’m scared for the moment that I do (hopefully only maybe morning sickness when I chose to have a family a long way down the road). I applaud you for making it through it sanely!

  9. I have this fear as well, for as long as I can remember. It was so comforting to find out it has a name and to read about other people like me! I always thought I was just a big baby because no one else I know has a fear of it.
    I do the same sort of elimination process with foods, I never eat home made sugar cookies anymore because I happened to eat them the same day I threw up like 10 years ago.
    Dramamine became my best friend for a long time but I am working on my daily fear! This article was very encouraging for me to keep doing so, thank you so much!

  10. I’m not sure if I’m actually phobic, but I too am very scared of throwing up. I sort of have it under control now, but as a kid I actually made myself sick. When I’d had a lot to eat, I’d think “oh no, I had too much, my stomach won’t be able to handle it, I’m going to have to vomit” and I got so worked up about it, I actually did throw up, which strengthened my belief that I had a very weak stomach. This resulted in me throwing up very often for a while. It’s a lot better now (haven’t thrown up in years) but I do still get nervous when I’m traveling. I always worry I’ll get sick on the plane or something. and the weirdest thing about it: the vomiting part isn’t actually the worst, since I always feel a little better right after I’ve thrown up; it’s the hours of waiting to vomit, while being incredibly nauseous, that are the worst. even so, I still hope I won’t have to throw up when I feel nauseous – even if this means being super nauseous for a horribly long time. I don’t even get it myself!

  11. Oh my god. This is so me. I have once seen a man being sick on an escalator. It took me a few years to be able to stand on them again. Instead, when there were no stairs, I used to run them up, praying and panicking.

    I get super stressed when I have to travel with a lot of people. I don’t like kids (because of apparent reasons) and I don’t think I will ever have some.

    Another thing that really disturbs me is how often are characters THROWING UP in movies. Is that normal??????????

    Thank you for this post, I am happy, there are others I can relate to.

  12. It’s so great to see that there are other people out there with the same fear as me! I’m in college and I still have fully blown panic attacks when I start to feel sick. Funnily enough, it’s often just me convincing myself that I’m feeling sick which starts the panic, then I really feel it! I have actually gotten a little better since going to university though because I want to go out and socialize at parties, even though I know people there might drink too much and throw up. Last year at a party I was at, a guy had too much to drink and passed out. I was the first one to find him, and being in a situation where I had to put aside the fact that he’d thrown up and was covered in vomit and check that he was breathing and help him was a bit of a turning point for me. I’m still really paranoid about getting sick and catching something, but I think I’ve managed to work through my fear a little. Thanks so much for the article! I’ve never told my friends about it, but my Mum knows and she’s very understanding, so it’s good to have other people with the fear to discuss their experiences!

  13. I am HORRIFIED OF ME, you, the action…all the above when it comes to vomiting. Unlike you, for some reason I feel more comfortable having those around me aware of my fear so that if I panic, they understand. Also if someone is sick, I need to know every symptom, what they ate and where they think they caught it! I become obsessed! For example a few weeks ago I pulled up to my favorite restaurant and a girl was barfing out of the side of her car. I refused to go in the restaurant and then continued to obsess over it for several days. Why was she sick? What did she eat? Was she maybe pregnant? Was it the stomach bug? Perhaps she ate something bad. I try to remember what her face looked like in case I see her again. I will now possibly forever drive by that location and think about that, also avoiding ever parking in that spot!

    I avoid hospitals, amusement parks, long car rides, airplanes, public restrooms, boating trips(cruises) day cares, anything were I know sick people may be. Whats fascinating is once I do get sick (which I can count on one hand in my whole life) right after, I realize how stupid it is and how it’s really not THAT bad! But once the anticipation builds up again, I’m horrified! This could possibly be genetic, as my mom has the same exact phobia, except unlike me she doesn’t like to talk about it or obsess as much as I do.

    I continue to try to live life without letting it run my daily thoughts (although this has yet to happen). I will probably always be a vegetarian, check dates on food labels, wash my hands, carry Altoids (good for nausea), pepto and anti anxiety medication. In some ways it has gotten better over the years, and worse in other ways. Fear is hard to define, and the lack of control is what horrifies me the most. I pray that someday when I have children I can live without the running concern of them getting sick and be able to function as a “normal” member of society.

    It feels comforting to know that there are others out there. Occasionally, I run across people with this phobia, yet they all tend to differ a bit. The thought of us all being friends gives me anxiety as none of us could really be there for each other during a panic! Haha!

    Thank you for your message! We can get through this!

  14. I have never met anyone with emetophobia. No-one understands when I say I can’t deal with it. They just say “well no-one likes it”. But it’s so much more than that. I’m absolutely terrified of it. I had a stomach bug not long ago and I was trying so hard not to that I was lying on the floor praying to whatever deity that it wouldn’t happen and trying not to cry or have a panic attack.

    I have an eating disorder and I think the only reason I haven’t been bulimic in the vomiting sense is because of the emetophobia. So it has the occasional advantage I guess!

    I’m so glad I’m not alone, but at the same time I wish I was. I know how difficult it is to deal with and I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have to deal with it, let alone all the lovely people on these comments.

  15. Understanding is half the battle. I used to be unable to look at blood and guts and now I’m a medic. I just decided that people were like cars and the blood is the oil. Another way to overcome phobias is to find the humor in them. Here’s a whole series on bizarre yet true human phobias. http://www.motherapprovedcomedy.com/?cat=3

  16. You have no idea how glad I am that this article showed up on this site!!! I keep having to explain to people what emetophobia is and they just don’t understand that it isn’t a gross-out factor for me, it’s a legitimate fear. In fact just yesterday one of my friends was about to tell a vomit story and I’m just yelling at him to stop, but he doesn’t so I bolt out of there and my other friends had to explain to him that I have a fear of vomit! It’s a daily fear, too. I have nightmares about it, I don’t want to be around children because of it, I avoid amusement parks and eating competitions because of it, I even wait to watch movies until someone can tell me if there is or isn’t a vomit scene in it!

  17. Thank you for sharing this!! Its always so refreshing to be reminded I’m not the only one. So for anyone who cares, here are my personal issues with it. I’ve been struggling with this since I was very young, but its an overall fear of vomit, whether its my own or someone else’s. I used to go to such extreme lengths to avoid getting sick just like how you described, avoiding certain clothes or TV shows (one of those also being an episode of As Told By Ginger!). I would avoid places where people got sick. It would take at least a week for me to use a bathroom again after either myself or someone else had gotten sick in it. However, I didn’t understand it as a kid and got sick constantly because if I thought about it I would freak out and focus on it until I threw up. My family took me to doctors and treated me for tummy troubles but no one knew until years later that it was all in my head. I occasionally have anxiety attacks where I’m crying and shaking all over sitting on the bathroom floor because I thought “what if I got sick right now?” If someone gets sick, or I think they’re going to, my heart starts pounding, I start crying, and doing literally whatever I can do to get out of there and far away. I’ve damaged my ears from plugging them so hard with my fingers to prevent hearing people throwing up at night. I’m afraid of long car rides, airplane rides, public bathrooms, gatherings with children, parties…. all because of vomit. Its such an inconvenient fear. Though in the last year I’ve made major improvements through self therapy! Its not easy but its something you can learn to live with. I’m not sure I’ll ever be over it though.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing, Kayla! Was it the episode of As Told By Ginger where they sing in the talent show? If so, I think we have enough evidence that it’s actually linked to stomach bugs :). I’ve also avoided certain bathrooms for weeks if I knew someone got sick in them, and I’ll plug my ears so hard if I hear someone vomiting, too. Good luck working through your issues with Emetophobia!

      Chelsey Falco | 2/19/2014 04:02 pm
  18. Love this…. I’ve definitely felt the same way and never realized so many other people did too. I can still remember the date I had the stomach flu in 7th grade and it took me the longest time to eat the food that I ate that day again. I could never wear those clothes again, and I never watched Cadet Kelly on Disney Channel again either. I would panic and be convinced I was going to get sick even if it was just a friends’ sibling that was sick, someone I had no contact with. I can’t remember ever having a traumatic experience throwing up, but I’ve struggled with anxiety in other areas of my life, so this could be part of it. Luckily, like you I’ve been able to learn ways to ease some of my anxiety about it.

    • Thanks for reading, Katie! I didn’t realize how many other people could relate, either! It’s comforting that there are so many of us. This fear definitely seems to go along with other anxiety issues. It’s crazy how everything is connected! And don’t worry, I’ve seen Cadet Kelly enough times for the both of us!

      Chelsey Falco | 2/19/2014 04:02 pm
  19. Well, that sounds just like me!

    What’s funny about this is that I’m not afraid of vomit; I have cleaned my kids puddle many times. But I can count on one hand the times that I threw up in my life (and I’m 30). I fight the urge to vomit so much, that I usually pass out from the sick feeling. I become this crazy person and throw myself on the floor (because it’s colder) and just scream like I’m dying. Once I couldn’t take it anymore and tried to get some relief by putting my fingers down my throat and nothing happened. And I really tried. It kind of eased my fear though.

    Just like the others, I immediately start feeling sick when someone close to me has a stomach bug. I carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with me at all times. Even writing this comment makes me feel funny! But like you, it doesn’t run my life. I still drink alcohol or eat like a normal person. But I would rather get diarrhea for 10 days than throw up once, that’s for sure!

    • Thanks for reading, Nancy! I’ve had moments where I screamed like I was dying, too, just to fight throwing up. It’s the worst! I was telling my grandma that I’d rather have the regular flu for a week than a stomach bug for a day. (If I had the flu, I might be saying differently, but for now, that’s my truth!) Thanks for sharing!

      Chelsey Falco | 2/19/2014 04:02 pm
  20. I don’t know if I really have this or not because I wasn’t traumatized by anything I can recall and I don’t ritualize anything about how, when, or why. I do know right away if I’m going to be sick (my body tells me about an hour or so in advance) and I probably cry about having to do it for far longer than the process actually takes. I chew Pepto like crazy though, because it really does work for me most times, even once I think I’m at the point of no return. But ugh, I cry like a baby when I know it’s really gonna happen this time. I sob and say, “I don’t want to throw up,” while my husband just looks concerned because he knows there’s no way to help. It’s awful.

    • Thanks for reading, Ashley! It sounds like you might have Emetophobia, too. It doesn’t have to stem from something super traumatizing. The act of throwing up can be trauma enough!

      Chelsey Falco | 2/19/2014 04:02 pm
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