Vomiting is pretty nasty sometimes, but fortunately it doesn't usually last more than a day or two in otherwise healthy children.
What causes vomiting?
Vomiting is usually caused by irritation of the stomach. Lots of things can cause this irritation. The most common causes are:
- Viral illnesses. Just like a virus can infect the nose and throat, it can infect and irritate the stomach. Also, swallowing lots of nasty nasal mucus from a cold can upset the stomach too. If a day or two of vomiting is followed by several days of diarrhea, the most likely cause is a viral illness.
- Eating or drinking something unusual. This doesn't necessarily imply food poisoning. The body sometimes rejects a food that is new or different. Also, eating too much of any one thing, even if it was tolerated before, can result in stomach upset.
- Certain kinds of medications. Any medication can potentially irritate the stomach. Medications taken for a cold or "flu bug" are usually taken on an empty stomach, since the child isn't eating or drinking much while he's sick. Medicines on an empty stomach can irritate the stomach even more.
Can vomiting be dangerous?
Vomiting due to stomach irritation is no fun, but if it's the only symptom, it gets better and isn't life threatening. Rarely, vomiting is caused by a serious problem in the brain, like a head injury or meningitis. Fortunately, these types of brain problems have other symptoms besides just vomiting:
- Severe, pounding headache or neck pain.
- Visual changes: blurry vision, tunnel vision.
- Change in level of alertness: lethargy, loss of consciousness, etc.
If any of these symptoms appear, or if your child looks very sick or dehydrated, bring him to our office right away. Otherwise you can treat him yourself at home (see below.)
What can I do to help my child stop vomiting?
Do everything you can to ease the irritation on the stomach. Try the following:
- Offer liquids in small, frequent amounts. Offering too much fluid at once can bloat and distend the stomach, which can make vomiting worse.
- Offering a little bit at a time prevents your child from putting ''all her eggs in one basket." Even if your child does great and takes a lot of fluid, vomiting once can put her back where she started. On the other hand, drinking small amounts, allowing time in between to digest, means that at least some of it will be kept down if she vomits.
- Begin by offering a small amount of liquids: only half an ounce every 15 minutes. If your child can keep down half an ounce two or three times, offer an ounce every 15 minutes. After a few one-ounce servings have been kept down, go to two ounces every half hour. Gradually increase the servings as they are tolerated.
- Offer clear liquids first, like water, juice, Popsicles, lemonade, etc. These are easier for the stomach to digest. Opaque liquids like milk sit in the stomach longer, making them likelier to be vomited. Avoid caffeine-containing liquids like tea and soda; they can irritate the stomach.
- Pedialyte and other oral rehydration solutions are very expensive. They are unnecessary unless your child is truly dehydrated, in which case you'll want us to check him or her anyway.
- Don't worry about solid foods. Whether or not a child has an appetite for solid foods, or can keep solids down, is not important. Once your child is better, he or she will "catch up" quickly. Avoid solids until the vomiting has stopped for at least 4-6 hours.
- Don't give medications by mouth until the vomiting has stopped for at least 4-6 hours. For high fever, give acetaminophen (Tylenol) suppositories in the rectum.
If your child still can't keep any clear liquids down, even when offering half an ounce every fifteen minutes, or begins to look dehydrated, let us know right away.