Maybe – against your better judgement – you ate a salad from the petrol station. Or you’re stuck in the car on a winding, never-ending road. Or perhaps you tried reading that urgent email in a bus with very little air circulation.

Soon the colour in your face starts to disappear. You break out in a cold sweat. Your heart rate and breathing quicken as you feel sick to the stomach…

As unpleasant as it is, we have all experienced vomiting at some point in our lives.

Vomiting is your body’s way of forcefully expelling what’s in your stomach, through your mouth.

Vomiting is caused by a wide array of triggers, ranging from food poisoning to motion sickness to extreme distress.

Vomiting can be a one-time event, especially when it’s caused by eating or drinking something that doesn’t settle right in your tummy. However, vomiting repeatedly can be a sign of an emergency or a serious underlying condition.

Thankfully, you are not alone in experiencing the unpleasant sensation of vomiting. Gut Dr provides accurate and easy to understand information about vomiting, what causes it and how you can treat vomiting.

What are the common causes of vomiting?

It seems cruel that your body can react to a smell, food or sensation in such an unpleasant way. But vomiting plays an important role in keeping you healthy.

Vomiting can be caused by a large number of reasons and they each vary depending if you’re an adult or a baby. For adults, the most common causes of vomiting include:

  • food poisoning
  • indigestion
  • bacterial or viral infections
  • motion sickness
  • chemotherapy
  • migraine headaches
  • medications
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • appendicitis
  • acid reflux
  • gallstones
  • anxiety
  • intense pain
  • exposure to toxins
  • Crohn’s disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • concussion
  • food allergies.

If you’re a parent, common causes of vomiting in your baby include:

  • viral gastroenteritis
  • swallowing milk too quickly
  • food allergies
  • milk intolerance
  • other types of infections, including urinary tract infections (UTIs), middle ear infections, pneumonia, or meningitis
  • accidentally ingesting a poison
  • congenital pyloric stenosis: a condition present at birth in which the passage from the stomach to the bowel has narrowed so food can’t pass through easily
  • intussusception: when the bowel telescopes in on itself resulting in a blockage — a medical emergency.
Cracker on wooden table

How is vomiting treated?

Regardless of the reason for the vomiting, there is only one thing we want to know: how can you treat vomiting?

As there are a number of reasons why you vomit, treatment will depend on the underlying cause. In general, it is always a good idea to drink plenty of fluids that contain electrolytes to help prevent dehydration.

If you’re an adult, you can consider these home remedies to help alleviate any discomfort from vomiting:

  • Eat small meals consisting of only light and plain foods (rice, bread, crackers or the BRAT diet).
  • Sip clear liquids. Avoid undiluted fruit juice or soft drinks.
  • Rest and avoid physical activity.

It’s also important to avoid foods that are difficult to digest such as:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • caffeine
  • fatty or fried foods
  • spicy food.

If you’re a parent and your baby is vomiting, it can be a worrisome experience. But don’t panic. You can try these methods to help ease your baby’s vomiting:

  • Keep your baby lying on their stomach or side to lessen the chances of inhaling vomit.
  • Make sure your baby consumes plenty of water; if your baby is still breastfeeding, continue to breastfeed often.
  • Avoid solid foods.
  • See a doctor if your baby refuses to eat or drink anything for more than a few hours.

When to see a doctor

While vomiting is usually a one-time event, vomiting repeatedly can be a sign of a serious underlying condition or a medical emergency.

Visit your doctor if you or your baby show any of the signs below:

  • vomiting repeatedly for more than a day
  • unable to keep down any fluids
  • green coloured vomit or blood in the vomit
  • signs of severe dehydration such as fatigue, dry mouth, excessive thirst, sunken eyes, fast heart rate and little or no urine; in babies, signs of severe dehydration also include crying without producing tears and drowsiness
  • significant weight loss since the vomiting began
  • vomiting off and on for over a month.

If you or your baby’s vomiting is accompanied by the following symptoms, it should be treated as a medical emergency:

  • severe chest pain
  • sudden and severe headache
  • shortness of breath
  • blurred vision
  • sudden stomach pain
  • stiff neck and high fever
  • blood in the vomit.

If your baby is younger than three months old and they have a rectal fever of 38ºC or higher, with or without vomiting, visit your doctor.

Man suffering from sick stomach and vomiting

Treating nausea

Vomiting is an incredibly unpleasant experience, so it’s natural to want to avoid doing so in future. One of the simplest ways to prevent vomiting is to pay close attention to your symptoms. The most common symptom that is followed by vomiting is nausea.

Nausea can be described as discomfort in your tummy or the feeling that your stomach is churning. More commonly, nausea describes the feeling that you might vomit, but aren’t actually vomiting.

When you start to feel nauseous, there are a few steps you can take to potentially prevent yourself from vomiting, such as:

  • Taking deep breaths
  • Drinking ginger tea or eating fresh or candied ginger
  • Sucking on ice chips
  • If you’re prone to indigestion or acid reflux, avoid oily or spicy foods
  • Sit or lie down with your head and back propped up.

While these may help to alleviate any nausea or the urge to vomit, it’s important to remember that vomiting may not be possible to prevent. For example, if you have consumed enough alcohol to cause a toxic level in your bloodstream, vomiting is your body’s natural response to return to a non-toxic level.

As unpleasant and messy vomiting can be, sometimes the best thing to do is to let it out. Your body needs to respond naturally to any toxic or harmful substances in your tummy, and vomiting is a way for your body to stay healthy.

What you can do as a parent

If you’re a parent, it can be hard for your child to describe or recognise what nausea is. Start by asking your child questions if they’re experiencing stomach aches or any discomfort around their tummy. This can help both of you to pinpoint exactly what they’re feeling and if any further steps need to be taken to prepare for a vomiting episode.

If your child is prone to motion sickness, it’s a good idea to have a vomit bag handy while you are travelling.

Are you ready to dive deeper into your gut?

We’ve all experienced the unpleasant sensation of vomiting. At Gut Dr, we believe vomiting shouldn’t get in the way of a happy and healthy life. We want to help you get to the bottom of your gut health issues, as well as help you learn more about your gut.

Leading gastroenterologist Dr Vincent Ho takes a deep dive into the exploding medical field of gut health and highlights small steps that go a long way in fortifying your tummy health. With decades of experience and research, Gut Dr can help you enjoy a happier and healthier gut.

For more information on vomiting and gut health, subscribe to our newsletter. Or check out Dr Vincent Ho’s latest book ‘The Healthy Baby Gut Guide‘ for practical and easy-to-follow advice for parents on looking after your baby’s gut health.

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