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Barfing, puking, hurling, ralphing, blowing chunks, tossing cookies—whatever you happen to call it, vomiting is no fun at all. But it’s one of the ways our body tells us that something’s wrong. Think of it as an alarm system going off, but directly in our stomachs. Yuck!
If you’ve ever had the flu, food poisoning, a reaction to medication, or morning sickness (or perhaps your body overreacted when you saw someone else vomit), you know how it looks and feels, but have you ever given any thought about the actual process that our bodies go through when we’re vomiting? Let’s take a closer look at why we vomit, what we should do afterward to feel better, and how we can stop it from happening again.
What Happens When You Vomit
Vomiting is the forceful voluntary or involuntary discharge of stomach contents through the mouth and is one of our body’s reactions when it senses a threat, such as stress hormones, toxic chemicals, a change in motion, or nausea.
According to ScienceFocus.com, your brain’s chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ) detects chemicals and hormones, your inner ear detects swaying motions, and your vagus nerve detects an upset stomach. All of these signals can set of the following reactions that eventually leads to vomiting:
- Your mouth begins producing extra saliva, which can help protect your mouth and teeth from the stomach acid present in vomit.
- Your lungs take in extra air to prevent vomit from entering your lungs, and your diaphragm contracts to squeeze the stomach and create pressure.
- The glottis closes over your airway to further prevent vomit from entering your lungs.
- Your abdominal muscles contract to increase pressure and the pyloric sphincter is held closed to force the contents of the stomach up.
- The sympathetic nervous system raises your heart rate, which makes you sweat to release the heat from the exertion of vomiting.
A wide variety of factors that can cause nausea and/or vomiting, but here are the most common:
- Food poisoning
- Gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”)
- Emotional/psychological stress
- Motion sickness
- Acid reflux
- Ear infection
- Food allergy/intolerance
- Excessive amounts of alcohol
- Heart attack
- Severe pain
- Viral infection
- Ingestion of toxins
WHAT THE COLOR OF YOUR VOMIT MIGHT BE TELLING YOU
Vomit often takes on the color of any undigested food or liquid that was in your stomach. However, if you notice that your vomit is a color that doesn’t match your previous meal, there may (or may not) be something else going on, according to UnityPoint.org:
• Green or yellow vomit may contain bile, which is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. This could be caused by vomiting on an empty stomach.
• Orange vomit often means that the food you ate did not make it through the digestive system.
• Red vomit may contain blood from your mouth, throat or teeth. A small amount of blood is not a cause for concern, however, if your vomit is bright red and there is a significant amount, contact your doctor immediately.
• Brown vomit that smells like fecal matter may be a sign that your bowels are backed up. In this case, you should contact your doctor immediately.
The following are some common symptoms that can occur when experiencing nausea and vomiting:
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid pulse
- Dry mouth
- Chest pain
Severe Vomiting Treatment
If you’re recovering from food poisoning, gastroenteritis or another condition that causes severe nausea and vomiting, VeryWellHealth.com recommends taking the following steps to reduce your symptoms and avoid dehydration:
- Give your stomach time to recover. After you stop vomiting, wait at least 15 minutes before eating or drinking so that your stomach has time to rest.
- Drink up. After those 15 minutes are up, take small sips of water, a sports drink, or a pediatric electrolyte drink every five to 10 minutes. Avoid drinking milk or soda.
- Limit yourself to a “BRAT” diet. If you’re able to keep fluids down for eight hours or more, then you may be ready to try the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Bland foods like these will be easier on your stomach than rich, heavy or acidic foods. Return to a fluids-only regimen if you’re unable to keep a BRAT diet down.
- Gradually return to a normal diet. If you’re able to keep fluids and bland foods down, then you may be able to return to a normal diet. But take it slowly and return to a BRAT diet if you start vomiting again.
- Still vomiting? Contact your doctor. Your doctor may recommend an OTC medication, such as Pepto-Bismol, to ease your nausea or prescribe Phenergan or Zofran, which are used to control severe nausea and vomiting.
If your nausea and vomiting are less severe, or are being caused by motion sickness, you can follow the same steps, but at a quicker pace. One of the following natural treatments may ease your symptoms as well:
- Drink a cup of warm tea made from ginger, fennel, or cloves.
- Practice aromatherapy using lavender, peppermint, or rose.
- Practice deep breathing to help you relax.
- Nibble on dry crackers.
- Massage the pressure points near your wrist.
For more information, check out Natural Cures for Nausea and Dehydration.
How Can I Stop Myself from Vomiting?
You may not think so at the time, but vomiting can actually be a good thing. It rids our bodies of harmful toxins and germs, and most of the time, it actually helps us to feel better afterward. But if you can’t stand the thought of vomiting, or if you’re in a public place where you don’t have immediate access to a bathroom, you may be looking for a way to at least delay the process a bit. The following tips might help:
- Sit upright and in a comfortable position. Avoid lying down, if possible, and avoid any physical activity until you feel better.
- Take slow, deep breaths and focus on pleasant thoughts.
- Drink a hot cup of your favorite herbal tea or a glass of warm ginger ale.
- Open the window to get some fresh, cool air.
- Suck on some hard candy flavored with peppermint, lemon, or ginger.
If you’re experiencing chronic nausea and vomiting, speak with your doctor, who can help identify underlying medical conditions or recommend helpful lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.
This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated.