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'Vomit makes me panic'

Most of us find the sight or smell of vomit unpleasant, but for Hilary Fraser even the mention of it is enough to make her panic.

In fact, she probably won't be able to read this article about it.

Her condition, which is known as emetophobia, is one of the 10 most common phobias in the UK, according to Anxiety UK.

Vomiting is a momentary loss of control and a cause of embarrassment for Hilary, who lives in Bournemouth. “If I am sick, I always need someone with me, to reassure me,” she says. “Being sick on my own is my worst nightmare.”

Losing control

She has a similar, but much milder, reaction to sneezing or hiccups in public. “If I do more than three sneezes, I go into a panic,” she says. “The sickness itself isn’t so much a problem, it’s the unexpected loss of control I can’t deal with. I’m a control freak, so am comfortable when I’m in control. I don’t like surprises.”

Seeing other people vomit is enough to make her sick. “The sight and smell can make me gag,” she says. “I was out on my own the other day and somebody in a shop said 'six' and I misheard it as 'sick'. I suddenly went bright red, and started shaking and sweating. I had a full-blown panic attack."

How it started 

Hilary's phobia began when she was at school. She remembers one year when several pupils had a sickness bug. "People were being sick in front of me," she says.

The only time she has been able to control her phobia was when her three children were growing up. "My daughter could throw up at the drop of a hat, so I became more desensitised to it," she says. "But when they all left home, the symptoms returned."

Hilary has never seriously considered treatment, as she believes nothing is effective. A doctor told her that it was normal to be put off by vomit. "I don't think people understand how paralysing it can be," she says.

Her fear of sickness means she avoids public transport, most public lavatories, doesn't go on holiday and relies on the internet for shopping.

Finding safe places

She's a full-time carer for her husband, who has a head injury. "My life is based around the home. I stick to the safe places: my house, my garden and my sister's place," she says. "Gardening is a passion. Depending on the weather, I spend two hours a day gardening."

Her other passion is distance learning, and she is very proud of being an Open University graduate. "Distance learning is my window to the world," she says.

"I accept that I can't do some things. I don't live a life that other people would like, but I manage. I'm happy most of the time."

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Learn about different talking therapies that can help people overcome a range of problems, from depression to stress. Tip: check with your GP whether there are any Improving Access to Psychological Treatment (IAPT) services in your area.

Media last reviewed: 26/05/2015

Next review due: 26/05/2017

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