Vomiting, or throwing up, is a common symptom of many health conditions, including bacterial and viral infections, motion sickness, migraines and numerous others.
Most of the time, vomiting occurs after nausea — a feeling of sickness in your stomach and an urge to vomit. Vomiting can affect anyone of any age and background and range from mild to severe and persistent.
While vomiting is unpleasant, it sometimes serves an important purpose by helping your body to get rid of poisons and toxins.
Occasional episodes of vomiting usually aren’t cause for concern. However, severe, persistent vomiting, or vomiting that’s accompanied by other symptoms, may signal a serious illness and require medical attention.
Below, we’ve explained why vomiting happens, as well as when you should seek professional medical help if you’re feeling nauseous and vomiting often. We’ve also covered the treatments that are available for nausea and vomiting, from self-care techniques to medications.
Nausea and vomiting generally occur as the result of a medical condition. A variety of different conditions may cause you to feel nauseous and vomit, including the following:
In women, nausea and vomiting often occur during pregnancy — a symptom that’s often referred to as morning sickness.
In some cases, vomiting may be a signal of a more serious illness. For example, diseases such as cancer, heart disease and kidney or liver disorders may cause vomiting, either on its own or alongside other symptoms.
Sometimes, vomiting is caused by an environmental factor. For example, unpleasant odors can cause nausea and vomiting in some people.
Vomiting can also occur as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol can irritate the stomach lining and increase your body’s production of gastric acid, causing you to vomit while you drink alcohol or in the next morning as part of a hangover.
Most of the time, vomiting isn’t something that requires urgent medical attention. Nausea and vomiting often develop because of food poisoning or an infection such as gastroenteritis, or as the result of a disturbance like motion sickness.
However, when vomiting is severe or persistent, you should seek medical assistance. Call your healthcare provider if you:
You should contact your healthcare provider immediately if you think your vomiting is caused by a poison, or if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Treatment for vomiting usually involves treating the underlying cause, whether it’s an illness such as food poisoning, a health condition such as motion sickness or a specific bacterial or viral infection.
When vomiting is caused by an underlying condition such as pregnancy, a brain injury, or chemotherapy, treatment simply involves managing the symptoms for the duration.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medication to treat the cause of your nausea and vomiting. Make sure to follow their instructions, as treating the underlying cause will help to bring vomiting and other symptoms to an end.
Treating and recovering from vomiting usually involves lots of self-care. Taking good care of yourself will make recovering easier. Try to implement the following techniques while you’re recovering from nausea and vomiting:
Medications used to treat nausea and vomiting are called antiemetics. Some antiemetics can be purchased over the counter from your local drug store or supermarket, while others may require a prescription.
If you feel nauseous, an over-the-counter treatment like Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®) may help to reduce inflammation in your digestive system (such as that caused by the stomach flu) and relieve your symptoms.
If you experience nausea and vomiting due to motion sickness, using an antihistamine before you fly, sail or travel in a vehicle may help you to control your symptoms and avoid vomiting.
Over-the-counter antihistamines for motion sickness include dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®), diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) and scopolamine.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), transdermal scopolamine (available as a skin patch) is an effective first-line treatment for motion sickness that causes fewer side effects than other antihistamines.
For severe vomiting, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take in fluids through an IV (intravenous) drip.
Preventing nausea and vomiting isn’t always possible, especially when you have an illness that causes these symptoms. However, taking certain steps may reduce your risk of getting sick with an illness that causes vomiting. Try to:
Nausea and vomiting can occur for a variety of reasons, from motion sickness to illnesses such as food poisoning. While most vomiting doesn’t require medical attention, you should seek help if you have persistent or severe vomiting that doesn’t seem to improve over time.
If you feel nauseous or have been vomiting, you can talk to a licensed healthcare professional online to learn more about your treatment options and, if appropriate, receive a prescription for medication that you can pick up from your local pharmacy.