Emetophobia is an intense fear or anxiety that is specific to yourself and/ or others being sick. This fear has received little research attention in comparison to other difficulties. What researchers do agree upon however is that there is no known single cause of how someone may become emetophobic. It has however, been estimated that incredibly, up to 8.8% of the population could display symptoms (Philips 1985, van Hout & Bauman 2012). So before reading on, if you can relate to any of the below; please bear in mind, you are not alone.

The research and my own clinical experience of working with individuals with emetophobia point to the below as common symptoms of this phobia;

  • Excessive hygeine practices. For example, lots of hand washing to cleanse all germs away thereby less chance of contracting an illness. Emetophobics may also want people close to them to spend more time on their own personal hygeine as well
  • Fearing pregnancy. Often avoiding it for fear of morning sickness
  • Only eating 'safe food'. Often this can mean only eating bland food only whilst avoiding 'riskier' foods like poultry or takeaways
  • Avoiding seeing friends or family who have mentioned that they are sick or don't feel 100%
  • Scanning others for signs of sickness
  • Trying to obtain reassurance from others with regards to sickness
  • Fearing travelling (long or short distances)
  • Avoiding alcohol for fear of sickness
  • Avoiding public toilets
  • Researching movies and TV programmes to limit the chance of seeing any sickness
  • Being very 'hyperaware' of any physical changes within yourself. Particularly in relation to nausea and gastrointestinal problems

As this phobia is generally not commonly known amongst many health professionals, it can often be misdiagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), health anxiety,panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or even an eating disorder. Often, however it can present itself with any of the above simultaneously.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) has been proven to be useful in treating a wide variety of different difficulties including low mood/ depression, anxiety and even phobias. To find out more about CBT and how it can be applied to emetophobia, please click here.

If you would like to read up on more information about emetophobia, a very informative fact sheet exists here written by a registered clinical counsellor based in Canada with a history of emetophobia.