Many different things can make kids throw up, including illnesses, motion sickness, stress, and other problems. In most cases, though, vomiting in children is caused by gastroenteritis, an infection of the digestive tract.
Gastroenteritis, often called the "stomach flu," usually is caused by common viruses that we come into contact with every day. Besides causing vomiting, it also can cause nausea and diarrhea.
Gastroenteritis infections usually don't last long and are more disruptive than dangerous. But kids (especially infants) who cannot take in enough fluids and also have diarrhea could become dehydrated, meaning that their bodies lose nutrients and water, leading to further illness.
It's important to stay calm — vomiting is frightening to young children (and parents, too) and exhausting for kids of all ages. Reassuring your child and preventing dehydration are key for a quick recovery.
Giving kids the right fluids at the right time (called "oral rehydration") is the best way to help prevent dehydration or treat mild fluid loss.
What Is Oral Rehydration?
When fluids are lost through vomiting or diarrhea, it's important to replace them as soon as possible. The key is drinking small amounts of liquid often to replace water and nutrients that have been lost.
The best liquids for this are oral rehydration solutions — often called oral electrolyte solutions or oral electrolyte maintenance solutions. They have the right balance of fluids and minerals to replace those lost to vomiting and help kids stay hydrated.
Most electrolyte solutions are available at supermarkets or drugstores. If you think your child is at risk for dehydration, call your doctor. He or she might have specific oral rehydration instructions and can advise you on which solution is best for your child.
Note: Over-the-counter medicines to treat nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are not recommended for babies and children. In certain situations, doctors might recommend medications for nausea or vomiting but these are available only by prescription.
Rehydration Tips: Babies (Birth to 12 Months)
For Breastfed Babies
For Formula-fed Babies
Rehydration Tips: Kids & Teens (Ages 1+)
Vomiting due to gastroenteritis is caused by viruses that can spread to others. So keep your child home from school or childcare until there's been no vomiting for at least 24 hours. And remember that washing hands well and often is the best way to protect your family against many infections.
When to Call the Doctor
If your child refuses fluids or if the vomiting continues after you try the suggested rehydration tips, call your doctor. Also, call for any of the signs of dehydration below.
In kids and teens:
Also contact your doctor if you notice any of the following, which could be a sign of an illness more severe than gastroenteritis:
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD