Emetophobia is an anxiety disorder. It is a specific phobia characterized by an unusually strong fear of vomiting or vomit. Some studies have cited the prevalence of emetophobia as being as low as 0.1% while others estimate it to be as high as 6-7% in women.
For most people who develop emetophobia, the condition starts to manifest in childhood. It may begin with a traumatic bout of illness that includes frequent vomiting. After recovering from the illness, some children may feel lingering fear of being sick that can affect their eating habits, diet and behavior. One of the most harmful aftereffects of a traumatic illness can be food refusal, in which the child either stops eating altogether or only eats a limited diet that does not provide all the necessary nutrition.
While food refusal and other negative behaviors can problematic, it is generally easier to treat emetophobia before the affected person reaches adulthood. This allows the child to learn healthy eating habits and attitudes about food he or she can use for a lifetime.
When a person is not treated for emetophobia before reaching adulthood, he or she often continues to struggle with the condition. In some adults the phobia can even grow worse if left untreated.
One big concern for adults with emetophobia is heritability; they want to know if their child or children may be at a greater risk for inheriting emetophobia or some other anxiety disorder.
A recent article about a man with extreme anxiety provides some perspective on how anxiety can affect one’s children. The man, who is married with two children, noticed that one of his children “began exhibiting signs of emetophobia, the same fear of vomiting that […] hounded him since he was a child.” Because he was familiar with the phobia and what it looks like, he was able to recognize it. The article does not mention the man’s other child showing signs of anxiety, so it is difficult to use their specific experience as an argument supporting or discrediting the idea that emetophobia can be inherited.
Because emetophobia is not a disorder that many are familiar with, it can be difficult for people to access resources related to it. At this time, it is unclear whether it emetophobia can be ‘inherited’ or not. It is possible that having a parent with emetophobia or another anxiety disorder can make someone more likely to develop an anxiety condition, but it would be difficult to say whether this was true or how the environment and genetics contributed. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.