When vomiting starts it may sometimes seem like there is no end in sight. The gagging, retching and actual vomiting may occur over and over until it eventually subsides. However, this may be short lived and another bout of vomiting can follow soon thereafter. Even if the vomiting does cease, the nausea that precedes it can continue for minutes, hours and sometimes even days thereafter.
Why do we vomit?
Vomiting may be unpleasant but it is an important defense mechanism and can even be life-saving in some situations. The process of vomiting is a means by which the body expels dangerous substances from the upper digestive tract (esophagus, stomach and upper small intestine) before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. These toxins or poisons tend to irritate the digestive tract lining which stimulates nausea and vomit centers in the brain.
Similarly any other cause of irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract may lead to nausea and even vomiting, although there may be no toxins or poisons present in the gut. Once the vomit centers are stimulated sufficiently, it sends signals to the tiny muscles in the wall of the upper digestive tract. These muscles contract and relax forcefully and in a coordinated manner to violently push out the upper gut contents through the mouth.
Remedies for Stopping Vomiting
Stopping vomiting bouts is not always easy. Usually once the bout of vomiting begins there is little that can be done to stop it. When it ceases then some of the ways and remedies discussed below may be helpful in preventing another bout. The focus is often to ease nausea and usually the vomiting will subside. However, there are instances where vomiting occurs despite the nausea being mild or almost non-existent.
It is important to remember that vomiting can be beneficial in expelling irritants and toxins from the gut. Therefore vomiting in the early stages should not be suppressed. It is only when vomiting is persistent and not subsiding after several bouts that it is important to consider measures to suppress it. Always consult with a doctor and beware of the risk of dehydration which can be severe and even life-threatening.
Read more on persistent vomiting.
Breathe Fresh Air Deeply
Deep breathing is a common way of easing nausea and possibly preventing vomiting. Many people find that slow deep inhalation and exhalation is helpful. This may be due to stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system which reduces the activity of the nerves and brain centers responsible for mediating nausea and vomiting.
Controlled breathing can also have a calming effect which can be helpful if a person is anxious and feeling nauseous. Some people find relief by having fresh air blowing on the face. This may be achieved with a manual or electric fan, or by air rushing into a vehicle when driving. Air conditioning may also be useful in this regard.
Sip Cold Water
Sipping cold water provides relief from nausea and vomiting in many instances. This relief may be short lived and the exact reason why this occurs is unclear. The cold may help temporarily ease some inflammation of the upper gut, flush stomach acid in the esophagus that occurs with reflux and possibly assist with stomach emptying as well. However, even a few sips of water can have the opposite effect in some cases and worsen the vomiting.
Eat Bland Crackers
Bland salt crackers may also be useful in relieving nausea and vomiting. This is one of the common remedies that pregnant women use for morning sickness. Furthermore hunger can aggravate nausea and the nutrition provided by these crackers, albeit very little, may help stave of the hunger for short periods. Bite off small bits of a cracker at a time and chew thoroughly before swallowing.
Read more on vomiting after eating.
Change in Position
Sometimes a simple measure like changing position can help ease nausea and possibly allay vomiting for short periods of time. Depending on the underlying cause, standing may be better than lying down or vice versa. Similarly changing sides when lying down can also help. Most people do not find relief with lying on the abdomen and this may in fact worsen nausea and trigger vomiting in part due to the increased pressure on the abdomen.
The BRAT Diet
The BRAT diet is recommended when starting solid foods again after vomiting subsides in conditions like gastroenteritis. Most people tend to switch to a liquid diet while the vomiting persists. However, solid foods should be introduced gradually and this is the purpose of the BRAT diet.
It includes bananas (mashed), rice, apple (grated or applesauce) or toast (no butter). Most of the time these foods are less likely to irritate the upper gut and is therefore well tolerated. Other bland foods can then be consumed if no further vomiting occurs.
Avoid Irritant Foods and Drinks
Foods and drinks that irritate the digestive tract and trigger or worsen both nausea and vomiting should be avoided. Some of these foods and beverages may be obvious while others may be less so. As a general guideline it is advisable to avoid alcoholic drinks, caffeinated beverages (especially strong coffee), processed and spicy foods as well as greasy meals. Some people may also find dairy to be intolerable due to lactose intolerance.
Medication for Stopping Vomiting
Anti-emetics are drugs that relieve nausea and are therefore also effective in easing vomiting. However, it is important to note that both nausea and vomiting are symptoms. While anti-emetics are effective in easing these symptoms, these drugs do not target the root cause. Therefore the underlying cause of vomiting needs to be diagnosed and treated accordingly to ensure that the vomiting subsides in the long term if not permanently.
Read more on anti-emetic drugs.
Other drugs such as antihistamines like dimenhydrinate may also be effective in treating nausea and vomiting. These drugs tend to be more effective for nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness. Sometimes medication used to treat other symptoms can also ease nausea and vomiting. For example, antacids used for heartburn due to acid reflux may also relieve nausea since the irritation of the esophagus by the stomach acid is eased by the antacid.