MOST people will not have heard of emetophobia. In fact, a recent survey suggested that a third of mental health professionals hadn't heard of it. But, for people who have this condition, it can be completely debilitating. In a nutshell, it is a fear of vomit; both a fear of one's self and other people vomiting. It is a fairly rare condition. But even so, at an estimated prevalence of 0.1 – 0.2 per cent, it is likely that around 500 to 1,000 people in Cornwall are sufferers.
Now, to be truthful, the act of 'throwing up' is not high on anyone's list of enjoyable activities and most of us would avoid this situation wherever possible. But for the emetophobe, it is a situation filled with absolute dread and fear. Unfortunately, most sufferers are already aware that their fear is exaggerated; and so, because of embarrassment, they are likely to hide it and not seek help.
People with emetophobia may be highly cautious about food, (especially sell-by dates), and often will rarely risk eating food prepared by others – so won't eat out. They also may avoid people who may be drunk (and so pubs or going out at night), travelling (in case of travel sickness) and crowds of people (who may carry bugs and germs).
In extreme cases they may avoid necessary surgery or medication, because it might make them nauseous, and most tragically, women with this condition will avoid pregnancy, in spite of a desire to have a child.
The impact on the person's life can therefore be enormous; and without treatment, it will persist. Probably, the most researched treatment, called CBT, produces significant improvements in about two thirds of cases. The sufferer still won't like vomit, but then again, who does?
■ For NHS-funded help with anxiety, stress or depression call Outlook South West on 01208 871905 or email firstname.lastname@example.org