What You Need to Know About Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can make you feel miserable. But it's important to remember that these are not diseases. Rather, they are symptoms of many illnesses.

Nausea is a feeling of uneasiness in the stomach. It's often tied to an urge to vomit. But it doesn't always lead to vomiting. Vomiting is when the stomach's contents are emptied through the mouth.

Typical triggers

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

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

  • Migraine headaches

  • Motion sickness

  • Peptic ulcers

  • Medicines or medical treatments, such as chemotherapy

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

  • Food poisoning or food allergies

  • 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 syndrome

  • Blockage of the bowel

  • Pancreatitis, or other inflammation in the abdomen, such as diverticulitis and appendicitis

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Delayed stomach emptying

  • Gynecologic problems

  • Eating disorder

What to do for nausea

Here are ideas on how to ease nausea:

  • Drink clear or ice cold beverages.

  • Sip drinks slowly.

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

  • Don't eat foods that are fatty. They may make nausea worse.

  • Eat slowly.

  • Eat smaller meals.

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

If these tips don't ease your nausea, talk with your healthcare provider.

What to do for vomiting

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

If you are vomiting, 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. Try water, weak tea, clear soft drinks without carbonation, noncaffeinated sports drinks, gelatin, or broth.

  • Take medicines with meals if possible. However, some medicines must be taken on an empty stomach. Talk to your healthcare provider if you miss a dose or can't keep medicines down.

  • Slowly add bland foods. If you've been able to drink some fluids and haven't thrown up for 6 to 8 hours, try eating small amounts of foods, such as bananas, potatoes, yogurt, 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.

  • Stay away from strong odors, such as tobacco smoke, perfumes, or cooking smells.

  • Stay away from dairy products, tobacco, and alcohol. They may irritate your stomach.

  • Get plenty of rest.

Vomiting that is caused by medicines, surgery, or radiation therapy may be treated by taking a different medicine. Medicines are also available to treat vomiting in pregnancy and other conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider about what’s best for you.

When to get medical care

For adults

See your healthcare 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 peeing (urination)

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

See your healthcare provider right away if any of these signs or symptoms occur:

  • Small amount of blood in the vomit

  • Severe belly (abdominal) pain

  • Vomiting with fever above 101°F (38°C)

  • Vomiting with diarrhea

Call 911

Call 911 or get medical care right away at the nearest emergency room if any of these occur:

  • More than a small amount of blood in the vomit

  • Severe headache or stiff neck

  • Lethargy

  • Confusion or decreased alertness

  • Rapid breathing or pulse

For children

Take your child to the healthcare provider right away if any of these signs or symptoms occur or if they become dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration in children include:

  • Little or no peeing

  • Not eating or drinking normally

  • Fewer or no tears when crying

  • Sunken soft spots in babies less than 18 months

  • Dry mouth

  • Irritability

  • Thirst

  • Sleepiness

Child younger than age 6

  • Vomiting lasts more than a few hours.

  • Diarrhea also occurs.

  • Your child becomes dehydrated.

  • Your child has a fever above 100°F (37.8°C).

  • Your child hasn't peed or wet a diaper in 4 to 6 hours.

Child age 6 and older

  • Vomiting lasts more than 1 day.

  • Diarrhea and vomiting last more than 24 hours.

  • Your child becomes dehydrated.

  • Your child has a fever above 101°F (38°C).

  • Your child hasn’t peed in 6 hours.

Call 911

Call 911 or get medical care for your child right away at the nearest emergency room if any of these occur:

  • Vomiting blood

  • Confusion, extreme tiredness, or not responsive

  • Severe dehydration (sunken eyes, peeing only 1 or 2 times a day, not making tears, lethargic)

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Tennille Dozier RN BSN RDMS
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.