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Vomiting can happen for many different reasons

Vomiting can happen for many different reasons
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Vomiting

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What is vomiting?

Vomiting can be unpleasant but it is usually not a sign of anything serious. Be careful not to get dehydrated, and see your doctor if it doesn’t go away in a day or 2.

Many different things can cause vomiting. It usually improves within 48 hours (2 days) and may have completely gone within 3 days.

Children tend to vomit more than adults. They usually get over vomiting very quickly.

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What symptoms are related to vomiting?

If you are vomiting, you may also have:

Dehydration is a serious risk, especially in children. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • urinating less often (fewer wet nappies in babies)
  • dark urine
  • sunken eyes
  • dry mouth and tongue
  • tiredness and lethargy
  • headache

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our diarrhoea and vomiting Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

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What causes vomiting?

Vomiting may be caused by a viral infection. Food poisoning can also cause vomiting. These often cause diarrhoea as well. Vomiting can also be caused by an illness or pregnancy.

You can find more information about the underlying causes of vomiting here.

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When should I see my doctor?

Call an ambulance if you are vomiting and also have:

  • chest pain
  • severe abdominal pain or cramping
  • blurred vision
  • confusion
  • high fever and stiff neck
  • faeces in the vomit
  • bleeding from your rectum
  • you think you have swallowed something poisonous

Visit your doctor if:

  • you have been vomiting for more than 2 days
  • you also have a severe headache
  • you are dehydrated
  • you have not been able to keep down fluids for 12 hours or more
  • your vomit is green. In this case you are probably bringing up bile, a fluid the digestive system uses to digest foods
  • there is blood in your vomit or what looks like coffee granules
  • you have abdominal pain
  • you have diabetes, especially if you need to take insulin

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How is vomiting treated?

The best thing is to have small sips of water or oral rehydration fluid to prevent dehydration. If your child is vomiting, they will also need comforting.

You can buy over the counter medications to stop vomiting, but you shouldn’t give these to children.

You should continue to breastfeed your baby if you have vomited, but you should make sure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid getting dehydrated. Maintain good hygiene and speak to your midwife or doctor for further advice.

Here is some self-help information:

  • eat normally — do not starve yourself. If you are hungry, eat regular meals
  • rest at home and don’t go to work while you are ill
  • if you have been vomiting, if you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take
  • antibiotics are not usually given to treat vomiting
  • drink plenty of clear fluids (dilute 1 part juice to 4 parts water). Avoid undiluted fruit juice or soft drinks
  • re-hydration drinks are available over-the-counter from your local pharmacy and from some supermarkets. These drinks provide the correct balance of water, sugar and salt that your body needs. Follow the instructions on the packaging
  • sports drinks and energy drinks should be avoided as a rehydration fluid option. They have high sugar content that does not assist with rehydration

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Can vomiting be prevented?

The best way to prevent vomiting is to avoid getting sick. To prevent catching a virus or to make sure you don’t pass it on to others:

  • maintain good personal hygiene — you can do this by ensuring that you and your family always wash your hands with soap and warm water before eating or handling food and after using the toilet, cleaning contaminated surfaces or handling garbage
  • clean surfaces — washing with detergent and water is a very effective way of removing germs from surfaces that you have touched
  • do not share personal items — use your own personal items, such as towels, toothbrushes, flannels or face cloths.
  • avoid handling or preparing food for others until 48 hours after the vomiting has stopped to avoid spreading germs
  • to prevent the spread of infection, do not go swimming in a public pool for 2 weeks after your last episode of vomiting
  • while you are unwell you should keep away from people who can easily pick up infections, such as newborn babies, pregnant women, older people and those with a lowered immune system

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Are there complications of vomiting?

Vomiting can affect the contraceptive pill (both the combined pill and mini pill). It can make the pill less effective at preventing pregnancy. Extra care must be taken if you wish to avoid pregnancy, such as using condoms. The effectiveness of the pill may not be back to normal for at least one week following vomiting, making it necessary to continue extra precautions.

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Last reviewed: July 2019

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