It’s flu season, which means for us it’s also emetophobia season. Typically around this time is when we see an influx of patients who have a fear of vomiting. Often it’s school-aged kids, but not infrequently we have adults with this issue as well. It’s more common than people realize, and while most come in feeling embarrassed, the treatment is short and effective if the person is motivated to overcome it. People with this issue typically have one or more of the following concerns:
- Strong avoidance of the thought of oneself, or others vomiting (let alone actually being present)
- Concerns when others are sick and may vomit
- Avoidance of places where people may vomit (e.g., airplanes and restaurants)
- Hypersensitivity and hypervigilance around stomach sensations
- Avoidance of certain foods (e.g., raw and ‘undercooked’ foods)
Emetophobia can be debilitating, leading to school refusal or a loss of a job. There’s also the embarrassment around even having the issue. You should know that there is help, and it doesn’t have to be a roadblock in your life.
Our treatment protocol for this issue is approximately 12 sessions, and can be accomplished in as short as a week if necessary. Treatment begins by developing an understanding of how and why we vomit. As treatment progresses, we become comfortable with situations and thoughts about vomit. Treatment moves at the pace of the individual (for some, even just saying ‘vomit’ is a huge step). By the end, vomiting will longer be a fearful trigger to be avoided at all costs, it will just be an inconvenience of life.