What Is Vomiting?
Vomiting is the forceful throwing up of stomach contents. Most kids vomit from time to time, but it usually doesn't last long and often gets better on its own.
What Causes Vomiting?
Many different things can make kids throw up. Most of the time, it’s due to gastroenteritis, an infection of the stomach and intestines. Gastroenteritis, often called the "stomach flu," is usually caused by viruses. Other germs, like bacteria and parasites, can also cause gastroenteritis. Besides vomiting, people with gastroenteritis also may have nausea, belly pain, and diarrhea. Vomiting due to gastroenteritis usually lasts less than 24 hours and other symptoms get better in a few days.
What Else Can Cause Vomiting?
People can sometimes vomit from:
- food poisoning
- motion sickness
- migraine headaches
Rarely, vomiting can be a sign of a serious problem, including:
- a blocked intestine, such as pyloric stenosis in infants
- other problems of the stomach and intestines, like gallstones, pancreatitis, or appendicitis
- increased pressure in the brain that can happen after a head injury or as a symptom of meningitis or a brain tumor
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Vomiting?
Kids often feel nauseous and have belly pain before throwing up. Other symptoms may include:
- loss of appetite
Frequent vomiting can lead to dehydration (not having enough water in the body). Signs of dehydration include peeing less often crying with few or no tears, having a dry mouth or cracked lips, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, acting very sleepy or less alert.
How Do Doctors Find the Cause of Vomiting?
Doctors usually can tell if vomiting if part of a stomach flu by hearing about the symptoms. Usually, no tests are needed. If a child is vomiting often or is very sick, the doctor may order a urine test, blood test, or other tests to check for dehydration and to find out what is causing the vomiting.
How Is Vomiting Treated?
Treatment for vomiting depends on the cause. Vomiting from gastroenteritis usually goes away on its own in less than 24 hours.
If your child has vomiting, help prevent dehydration by giving an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or a store brand). It has the right amounts of water, sugar, and salt to help with dehydration. You can buy it without a prescription at drugstores or supermarkets. If you can’t get oral rehydration solution, talk to your doctor.
If your child has mild dehydration and your doctor says it’s OK to start treatment at home:
- Start with small sips of the oral rehydration solution, about 1 or 2 teaspoons every few minutes.
- Babies can continue to breastfeed or take formula as long as they are not throwing up repeatedly.
- Don't give babies plain water instead of oral rehydration solution. It doesn't have the right nutrients for babies with dehydration.
- Older children can have frozen electrolyte popsicles.
- Don’t give medicines for vomiting unless your doctor recommends it.
- When your child stops vomiting, you can offer small amounts of solid foods, such as toast, crackers, rice, or mashed potatoes. Yogurt, fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, like chicken, are also OK.
Kids who continue to vomit or have more severe dehydration need treatment in the ER or hospital.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if your child:
- can’t drink for several hours
- has signs of dehydration, such as peeing less often, crying with few or no tears, having a dry mouth or cracked lips, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, acting very sleepy or less alert
- has a high fever
- is vomiting blood, or has green or brownish vomit
- has severe stomach or back pain
- has headache or stiff neck
- is vomiting after a head injury
- is vomiting for more than 24 hours