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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."

Mental and emotional health: talking therapies

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 IAPT services (Improving Access to Psychological Treatment) in your area.

Media last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015


Page last reviewed: 05/08/2014

Next review due: 05/08/2016

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

CMAY said on 05 July 2014

Its so nice to know Im not the only one! Im currently in shared student accommodation where I have to share a bathroom with many people. Its hell! Its horrid not being able to feel safe in the bathroom (or any other room) in your own home!

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maz52 said on 07 June 2014

Have you thought of trying Hypnosis for your emetophobia?

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mem79 said on 29 November 2012

I'm 33 and have had emetophobia for as long as I can remember, I have no idea where it stems from. Unfortunately most people around me are of the opinion "well, nobody likes sick" and have trouble understanding the anxiety it causes me. I spent £500 on 5 sessions of hypnotherapy a few years ago and while it didn't cure me it doesn't effect every second of the day anymore.....maybe just every minute, lol. As for other coping suggestions i think it's an individual thing, do whats best for you. I cope in different ways each day, sometimes I avoid every trigger situation and other days when I'm feeling braver I might be convinced to try something different. It is hard to find other sufferers despite emetophobia being a common phobia. I'd love to find some sort of support group or network.

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lizzieg89 said on 13 November 2012

I have emetophobia, and have done for about 13 years, its horrific and really does control your life. it surprises me that is is so common yet there aren't many places you can go for specific treatment. also GPs unfortunately just don't know how to help, I have been to mine several times and each time come out feeling worse and more despairing as they just dont understand it. One doctor even told me to look on the internet for some online CBT as apparently this is better than seeing a psychologist in person( yeah right) , and does he not think I've tried this?! Argh! any coping suggestions would be very grateful!

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