Many of the visitors to this sight suffer from emetophobia (the fear of vomiting). Others suffer specifically from Norophobia (Fear of norovirus and any stomach flu. The word was invented by my friend, Heather.)
Everyone has their own story about how their fear started. In many cases, the individual suffered from a very bad stomach bug where they couldn't stop vomiting.
Here is my story.
Believe it or not, before I had children, I was not afraid of the stomach flu and never even thought about it. I didn't like to throw up but I never worried about it and it hardly ever happened. In fact, I wasn't' even a germ-a-phobe. I am quite sure that I didn't say "Wash your hands" to my husband the instant he walked in the door every single day. My happy-go-lucky lifestyle came to an end when my first son was 22 months old and got a bad case of rotavirus. My husband and I did not catch the rotavirus but my little boy was sick for a full week and had to go to the hospital to get an IV. It was terrifying, but I don't think just that experience alone would have done me in. One week later, when my son was recovering, a relative came to visit who had a stomach bug 3 days earlier. It never even occurred to me to worry that we might catch it. Alas, 2 days later my son and I were both sick with vomiting. My poor little boy had 2 terrible stomach bugs in the course of 2.5 weeks! My husband came down with the virus 2 days after we did. This time he was the one that was so sick that I had to call 911 to come get him. I couldn't even take him to the hospital because my son was still throwing up and I was sick too. So, I had 3 weeks of stomach flu at my house and 2 trips to the hospital. After that, I went a little nuts. I decided to research stomach bugs and see what I could do to minimize the number of times we had to go through that. I don't think there has been a day that has gone by since that I didn't think "I wonder if someone is going to get a stomach flu today?"
Although, I don't like to vomit, what I am really afraid of is being too sick to take care of my children. I have a lot of will power and feel like I can summon the strength to get up and take care of my baby when I am sick with most things (sinus infections, sore throats, etc.). However, when my head is in the toilet, there is no way I can do anything else. My husband is frequently out of town and we have no family in the area. I don't feel like I have anyone to call to come help me if I was very ill. When it is a contagious illness like a stomach bug, I don't feel like I can expect a neighbor to come help out and put themselves at risk. I'm quite sure that if I lived next door to my mother, I'd never worry about anything at all.
After a 5.5 year healthy streak, my family got a stomach bug in February 2012. It started with my 7 year old son who probably caught it at school. His illness was not too bad. He threw up 3 times directly in the toilet. I kept him quarantined from the other kids for 2 days and no one entered the bathroom he used. I even changed my clothes before I went to take care of my baby. Of course, I washed my hands a million times and cleaned. I really thought we were safe. Unfortunately, 1 week later, my 17 month old son Michael got sick. He had lots of vomiting and had diarrhea. He threw up all over me and stuck his vomit covered fingers in my mouth so I knew there was no hope for me. Sure enough, 48 hours later, I was sick. I was nauseated all day so I just drank water and gingerale and didn't eat anything after noon. I vomited 2 times that evening. Then I slept all night and felt fine the next day. My husband got sick 48 hours after me. Unfortunately, he had just eaten at Skyline Chile and had a big Graeters ice cream sundae for dessert. So, he had a lot of vomiting to do. Amazingly, my 4 year old daughter never got sick.
To be completely honest, I think having this stomach flu in February helped ease my fears. Although 4 of us got sick, NO ONE had to go the the hospital. No one got THAT sick. I thought that every time a stomach bug came into MY house, someone would be near death. It has helped me to know that it is possible to have a stomach bug run through the house where no one is needs an IV. Also, the actual vomiting wasn't quite as bad as I expected. In fact, the hours that I spent struggling with intense nausea were MUCH WORSE than the actual vomiting. I felt so much better after I vomited that I wished I didn't wait so long. I should have vomited sooner. I also learned a few tricks that I think make vomiting easier.
My tips to make vomiting easier.
1. Take a deep breath before you vomit. One of the reasons that I think vomiting is so scary is because you can't breath while you vomit. Any activity in which you can't breath is pretty terrifying (choking, drowning, etc.) I found that if I took a really deep breath before I started and also tried to get a breath in between heaves, the vomiting was more bearable.
2. Try to extend each vomiting session by giving one last heave. Don't cut the vomiting session short. Get it all out and you might not have to vomit again.
3. Get it over with. The hours I spent struggling with intense nausea were much worse than the actual vomiting. If you feel you are sick and that your body needs to vomit. Take a deep breath and go for it.
My tips to help you stop worrying about the stomach flu.
1.Talk to your doctor about getting a prescription of an anti-vomiting medication such as phenergan or Zophran to keep at home and take in case of emergency. I feel like I can handle an illness where I vomit 2 or 3 times. But I do NOT want one of those illnesses where you vomit 20 times and can't stop vomiting. Having one of these medications on hand might help you stop worrying because you know you would never have to get THAT sick. I think if all cases of viral gastroenteritis only resulted in vomiting a few times, most of us wouldn't have gone crazy. I just got myself a prescription of Zophran. I haven't tried it yet. I hope I never need to but it is nice to have.
2. Have a plan of what you will do if you get sick. Keep Pedialyte , apple juice, or gingerale and saltine crackers at home. Have a rubberband in the bathroom to tie your hair back. Figure out who you would call if you get really sick and need help. If you are a young person living at home with your parents, you are the luckiest. You have someone to take care of you if you get sick. If you live alone, you are pretty lucky too. You can at least be sick in peace and just take care of yourself. If you are a husband and father, you are pretty lucky. Most likely your wife will take care of you and the children and let you rest. If you are a wife and mother, HOPEFULLY your husband will take care of the children and let you just take care of yourself for once. If you are a single mom or single dad with young children, you probably have it the hardest. You are the one who needs a friend or family member to call to come over if you get really sick and can't take care of the kids.
3. Remember that vomiting is part of life. Accept that it is going to happen once in a while and it won't be that bad. Once in a while your body needs to vomit to get rid of something bad. My 17 month old son recently ate some shampoo in the bath tub and vomited it right up. No big deal. Humans are actually lucky that we can vomit. Horses can't vomit. When they get an intestinal illness, they often die. In fact, one viewer who wrote to me told me that she developed of fear of NOT VOMITING. Her fascinating story is in the comments below.
4. Keep it in perspective. Be glad you don't have cancer or some deadly illness like that brain eating amoeba. No matter what your situation, be thankful that it isn't worse. I got an e-mail from a woman who has Crohn's disease and esophogitis. When she gets a stomach bug, she vomits blood and has bloody diarrhea. Be very glad if that is not you. A friend of mine died of breast cancer in September 2012 leaving a 1.5 year old baby and a 5 year old with no mommy. A good friend of my husband died of the extremely rare Mad Cow disease in October 2013. It is all heartbreaking. I am praying that the stomach flu is the worst thing to ever happen to my family. The next time one of my kids comes down with a stomach bug, I'm going to be thankful that I am alive to take care of them....and alive to catch it from them.
All occasions where you might come down with a stomach bug are NOT equally horrible.
Most of the time, we emetophobes treat every situation where me might come down with a stomach bug as equally horrible and we freak out equally. This is not the case, though. Think logically about it. There is not "good" time to come down with a stomach bug, but there are WORSE times. Here is a list of the WORST times to come down with the stomach flu.
1. Your wedding day.
2. Your Disney World Vacation (or other once in a lifetime vacation).
3. When you have the lead in a show and don't have an understudy.
4. On a long airplane ride
5. On a long car ride
6. When you are in labor with a baby.
There are probably some other WORST times that I have missed. If you would like to suggest some other worst times for me to include on my list, e-mail them to me. When you think about it this way, having a stomach bug run through your family over Christmas break (when you are home and not traveling) is NOT the worst time. Having your child get a stomach bug and miss 3 exams and 2 basketball games is NOT the worst time. Try to dial down the WORRY about catching a stomach bug to fit the occasion. For example, if a kid throws up in your child's class, don't panic as much about it as you would if it is within a week of your Disney World vacation. If you get sick and it is not your wedding day or the day of your big vacation and you are home and your washing machine is not broken, do not freak out as if you are on a transatlantic flight with a newborn to take care of. Try to save the major worry for major events.
As I am writing this it is a few days before Christmas 2013. My family is healthy and we are supposed to go traveling for a week after Christmas. If any of my kids get sick before we leave, we will cancel our plans and stay home. It wouldn't be the end of the world. Traveling can be tiring and stressful and there would be good things about canceling it. (And my house would get a thorough cleaning). If someone gets sick while out of town at my mother's house, it wouldn't be so bad because she would be there to help me take care of everyone. If someone gets sick in the middle of the long drive, that would stink. I'm going to try to remain calm until that happens. I am not saying that you can't freak out about stomach bugs. If someone gets sick the first night at Disney World, freak the heck out! I just think we would be less stressed and spend less days of our lives freaked out if we could keep our freaking out proportional to the situation.
I have heard some TERRIBLE stomach flu stories. Kids sick on long 15 hour car rides, women sick with the stomach flu during labor, exhausted parents (up all night taking care of vomiting kids) who fall down the steps with their baby and breaking that babies leg, disabled veterans who nearly die from a stomach bug. If your situation is not as terrible as these, try to keep it in perspective and be thankful that your situation isn't worse.
I'd be lying if I told you that I was COMPLETELY over my fear of the stomach flu. It is improving, though. My sister in law sent me these "cute" stuffed E.coli and Salmonella one year for my birthday. I never thought I'd say the sentence "Thank you for the salmonella, I love it!" but I did.
Know that you are not alone in your fear. If you would like to connect with a group of very supportive and understanding people who all feel the same way as you, please join the Stop the Stomach Flu facebook group. It is a SECRET group so you need to e-mail me and I'll send you an invitation. phd.annie at gmail.com.
If you have ever suffered from emetophobia and feel you have made progress in overcoming it, please send me your story. Also, check out this wonderful blog post about the fear of vomiting. "Is the fear of throwing up ruining your life?" I will post it here in hopes that it will help others. My e-mail is phd.annie at gmail.com. Please remember that I am not a medical doctor and nothing I write is intended to be medical advice.
-Annie Pryor, Ph.D
I cured myself!
I have no idea what caused my fear of vomiting, but I recall clearly when it happened. I was 11 years old, living with my dad and his second wife. They were at a party - and out of nowhere - I had a panicky fear that I was going to “throw up” and I was inconsolable. My older sis called my father home from a party. He sat next to me on my bed and slowly got me to relax all my muscles until I fell asleep. The next morning, his wife railed on me for ruining their night and cautioned me to “never do that again.” My fate was sealed and it continued to haunt me for years.
FEAR of NOT VOMITING!
I have suffered severe migraine headache since I was 23 years old. As I write this, I'm 58. That's 35 years... wow.
I Had Emetophobia Until Morning Sickness.
For as long as I can remember, I have been deathly afraid of throwing up. I have a weak stomach and have a history of hyperventilating and fainting. I was also scared of doctor's offices, especially the waiting room, hospitals, excused from science classes (never dissected anything). The biggest joke in my family was that I would grow-up to become a doctor or nurse. I didn't even drink in college until my senior year because I was so scared of getting sick and hung over. My college roommate would have to check the bathrooms on party nights and weekend to make sure no one was getting sick before I would quickly race in and out. I could go on and on about this forever. I remembered I had also tried hypnosis during high school to get over my emetophobia (but it was unsuccessful).
I blame my phobia to being bused to school in nursery school. There was a little boy would would get sick into a brown paper Acme bag everyday on the ride home. Turns out, he had pneumonia but his parents kept sending him to school. Well, i refused to take the bus and my dad had to rearrange his schedule (salesman on the road) to chauffer me to/from preschool daily.
Everyone would ask me, What are you goign to do when you have kids? Well turns out, it was morning sickness during pregnancy with my son in 2009 that cured me. I even blogged about tossing my cookies on Park Ave South on my way to work.
I guess during the 9 months I learned that there are much worse stuff than throwing up and that it is a part of life but we survive. Do I enjoy throwing up? Absolutely not but it's not the end of the world.
I'm 24 years old and have been a emetaphobe since I was 8. I can remember two occasions at school in which a friend vomited (once in morning chapel and once in class), after that my fear started to grow. However, my fear spun out of control in college, where I was at my worst and even contemplated that dying would be better than vomiting. I saw a wonderful psychiatrist, who told me I wasn't only suffering from a phobia, but it was now an obsession. Even though being able to tell someone (who wouldn't judge me or tell me I'm crazy) was good for me, the therapy never really helped. I think it made it even worse.
I first heard the term emetophobia not too long ago and had mixed feelings because I thought what I was feeling was so unique to my own psyche that it wasn't possible anyone else could feel or fear vomiting the way I did/do. However, when I started researching it online a bit further I realized this was actually more common than expected and in all cases I read, it started with an event that took place which would ultimately instill this fear within each of us.
I am no exception although the details of my story are still somewhat mysterious; I urge you as you read to make no assumptions although I'm sure that's unavoidable. Just over three years ago I had some clam dip my wife had made for a party she was attending alone (and at this point I've eaten seafood regularly); so I literally only had a scoop around 6pm that evening and by 4:45am the next morning I was awake with nausea and within a half hour I was vomiting very hard. It only lasted about two and a half hours or so but it was terrible. The blood vessels all over my face were visible and purple from heaving so hard and there wasn't relief like you usually feel after vomiting… that whole time I was just waiting for the next heave; should I leave the bathroom type of feeling; until I finally, while still nauseous, fell back asleep and just took it easy the rest of the day.
I chalked it up to food poisoning, which I had never had before in my life (however my wife had made the clam dip herself from canned minced clams and nobody else who ate it at her party became sick).
About two or three months after this incident I had seafood again; my wife made flounder for dinner. THE EXACT SAME SYMPTOMS HAPPENED. I woke about 5am; vomited the same number of times and for the same length of time… the situation was IDENTICAL to the first time with the clam dip… and neither my kids or my wife got sick from eating the same flounder.
That was the beginning of what is now the only "phobia" I've developed in my life. I assumed I had developed an allergy to seafood. I was so convinced it was too coincidental to be food poisoning; the evidence was pointing to the contrary since nobody else had gotten sick from either of the two incidents but until then I had never had any allergies whatsoever in my life, that I was aware of.
Well, to make matters more mysterious; I visited the doctor and after being tested they confirmed I am in fact NOT allergic to seafood, though he did say people can suddenly grow allergic to things they've eaten for years but in my case I was NOT allergic they say. Needless to say I explained everything to the doctor and he said I "may have an intolerance" to seafood which I felt is a safe way for him to tell me he's stumped by it just the same.
Obviously my body has grown "intolerant" to seafood but I was not "allergic" by any means… this was very strange so this is where my fear had grown… I was not sure what the definitive root cause of my issue was and I grew fearful of vomiting so intensely that I started reading ingredients on every food I bought and began asking every restaurant or pizza joint I ate from if any seafood products were made with or prepared near my food. It drove my wife crazy.
The fear of vomiting grew so prevalent that I started getting anxiety for the first time in my life. Even when, in my mind, I knew I had not eaten any seafood I started to obsess over the fear of vomiting, and this would typically only happen in the evenings and at night. I guess I was too busy during the day in my work routine to worry too much about it but the moment I began winding down at home these feelings of anxiety would come. A misappraisal of the feelings within my own body became a daily habit; in other words, normal people don't necessarily "feel" their stomach unless they have gas or something but I began feeling my stomach all the time and was constantly asking myself "am I nauseous" right now? "Am I sick?" "Did I eat something I shouldn't have?" … and ultimately "am I going to be sick?" … though I NEVER did end up getting sick.
I received a prescription of Vistaril (Hydroxyzine) from my doctor for the anxiety. This is a non-narcotic antihistamine which I only took as needed, at night time and it helped me because it made me tired which helped me fall asleep. There were times it didn't help at all because either the anxiety was too strong or I didn't take it early enough. I learned I couldn't wait until I became anxious to take it, like other much stronger narcotics such as Xanax, etc. but I had to take it before I became anxious sort of as a preventative and that helped more. Still through it all I was convinced the problem had started in my mind and to beat it I'd have to overcome it in my mind through calm logic and persistently looking at my circumstances and telling myself I have not gotten sick in a couple years and that I don't have to feel like this. Still I took this drug on and off for a couple years but by the 3rd year I was taking it every single night.
Through this all I never ended up getting sick but it affected my life so much that I could not eat at my in-laws house as we did quite frequently, without getting anxious because when we barbecued I was worried if the residue from their previous seafood barbecue session would get on the burgers we would be barbecuing now which could make me sick. This is how I thought! There were always angles to everything. All the while I knew it was ridiculous.
I began nagging my wife and children about washing their hands all the time because now the fear of vomiting wasn't limited to seafood consumption but any virus we could potentially get. My children are now 8 and 5 so 3 years ago my oldest son had begun kindergarten and everyone knows how many bugs kids bring home from school.
In the last three years the "puke bug" had gone through my family once and yes I vomited during that and I remember feeling like; yes, that was bad but not as bad as I had made it out in my head because when you vomit from a bug there is some relief afterwards. Still, it was only one heaving session and when the 2nd day came after being sick the thought of getting nauseous crept up on me and I got very anxious about it… My wife had worked for a doctor at the time and he prescribed me Zofran (Ondansetron) which I took right away and felt great.
I kept the Zofran in the house after that and would take it at times when I wasn't sure if I was nauseous but I tried limiting that as much as possible to beat the feeling mentally.
Well, over the last year I've made amazing progress because I found there was another underlying medical issue beneath all this. I learned I had/have very low testosterone and one of the symptoms of low T is anxiety so the battle I had was on two fronts and the issues I faced with regard to the emetophobia were compounded by the low T. After getting on Testosterone Replacement Therapy and taking a shot of T intramuscularly every two weeks I still faced the emetophobia but I was determined to beat it.
I was still a "germaphobe" and still battled the fear of vomiting but I began weaning myself off the Vistaril over the course of a month and stopped taking it completely. That was about 3 to 4 months ago and since I've still had some battles where I've had to take a Xanax (from my wife) in the evening on a couple occasions but again, I never got sick.
We've even battled the flu in my house which both my children have had last month and my son even vomited once. Through it all I was anxious at times but I handled it all so much better than I would have a year or two ago.
My faith in God was a major factor in my improvement in this area. Prayer and trust in Him has allowed me to put my fear of vomiting in perspective.
I know still struggle with emetophobia however I realize that in three+ years since eating that seafood I have not gotten sick like that and I will forever stay away from seafood for that reason. Still, I wish there was a way I could definitively beat this fear once and for all but for now I place my trust in Jesus and rely on His strength in my weakness. Thank You.