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What You Need to Know About Vomiting

Although nausea and vomiting can make you feel miserable, it's important to remember that these are not diseases, but rather symptoms of many illnesses.

Nausea is a feeling of uneasiness in the stomach often tied to an urge to vomit. Nausea doesn't always lead to vomiting, however. Vomiting, which is often also called "throwing up," is the emptying of the contents of the stomach through the mouth.

Typical triggers

These are some of the more common causes of nausea and vomiting:

  • Gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the digestive tract most often caused by a viral or bacterial infection

  • Migraine headaches

  • Motion sickness

  • Peptic ulcers

  • Medications or medical treatments, such as chemotherapy

  • Hormonal changes, such as those that lead to morning sickness during pregnancy

  • Food poisoning or food intolerance

  • Poisons, toxins or chemicals in the blood, such as alcohol

  • Head injury

  • Gallstones

  • Stress and excitement in children ages 2 to 6

These are less common causes:

  • Brain tumor

  • Reye's syndrome

  • Obstruction of the bowel

  • Pancreatitis

What to do for nausea

Here are ideas on how to ease nausea:

  • Drink clear or ice-cold beverages.

  • Drink beverages slowly.

  • Eat saltine crackers, plain bread and other bland foods.

  • Avoid foods that are fried or sweet.

  • Eat slowly.

  • Eat smaller meals.

  • Wait a while after eating before exercising or doing other vigorous activity.

  • Don't brush your teeth immediately after a meal.

If these suggestions don't ease your nausea, talk to your health care provider.

What to do for vomiting

Children become dehydrated more quickly than adults do. If your child is vomiting, ask your health care provider how to help your youngster feel better.

Adults may want to try these tips:

  • Take a break from solid food, even if you feel like eating.

  • Stay hydrated by sucking on ice chips or frozen fruit pops, and drinking sips of water, weak tea, clear soft drinks without carbonation, non-caffeinated sports drinks or broth. Sugary drinks may calm the stomach better than other liquids.

  • Temporarily stop taking oral medications, because these can make vomiting worse.

  • Slowly add bland foods. If you've been able to drink some fluids and haven't thrown up for six to eight hours, try eating small amounts of foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, unbuttered toast, dry crackers or dry cereal.

  • Once you're back on solid food, eat small meals every few hours. This helps your stomach digest food slowly.

  • Avoid strong odors, such as tobacco smoke, perfumes or cooking smells.

  • Avoid dairy products, tobacco and alcohol. They may irritate your stomach.

  • Get plenty of rest.

Vomiting that is caused by drug therapy, surgery or radiation therapy may be treated by taking a different medication. Medications are also available to treat vomiting in pregnancy and other conditions. Talk to your health care provider about what's best for you.

When to call the doctor

See your health care provider if your vomiting doesn't ease with self-care within 24 hours, or if you become dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration include extreme thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, and dizziness or lightheadedness.

See your health care provider immediately if the following signs or symptoms occur:

  • Blood in the vomit

  • Severe headache or stiff neck

  • Lethargy

  • Confusion or decreased alertness

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Vomiting with fever above 101 degrees F

  • Vomiting and diarrhea are both present

  • Rapid breathing or pulse

These are reasons to take a child younger than 6 to the doctor:

  • Vomiting lasts more than a few hours

  • Diarrhea also occurs

  • Your child becomes dehydrated

  • Your child has a fever above 100 degrees F

  • Your child hasn't urinated for six hours

These are reasons to take a child older than 6 to the doctor:

  • Vomiting lasts one day

  • Diarrhea and vomiting last more than 24 hours

  • Your child becomes dehydrated

  • Your child has a fever above 101 degrees F

  • Your child hasn't urinated for six hours