Why Your Child Vomits — and When to See a Doctor
When your child is sick and vomiting you both just want it to stop. Find out common causes of vomiting in children, and when you should call a doctor.
As parents, we go through many “firsts” with our children, some joyful and others troubling. One new experience that can stand out as particularly unpleasant is the startled or fearful reaction of your child the first time he or she vomits.
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We stand by helplessly trying to reassure our kiddos that yes, even though this doesn’t make sense in anybody’s world, food can go up, in the wrong direction. Children just don’t understand what’s happening or why. They just want it to stop — and so do you.
Sometimes, episodes of vomiting are mild and short-lived. Other times, they are a sign of something more serious.
Pinpointing what’s behind a bout of vomiting in a child may not be straightforward, Dr. Goldman says.
“Kids, especially younger ones, are sometimes more sensitive to certain bacteria, so they might be more susceptible to viruses or food poisoning,” he says. “They don’t respond the same way adults with a more developed immune system do.”
They may struggle to articulate how they feel. A lot may depend on your child’s age:
Infants and toddlers
Sometimes an anatomical issue (existing from birth) is responsible. In those cases, a doctor can often fix it before your child reaches adulthood, Dr. Goldman says.
In infants, you may see excessive spitting up or acid reflux. With toddlers, it’s usually a stomach virus, he says.
Older children and adolescents
In older children, your doctor may consider other causes, including common ailments (such as a viral infection) to emergency situations (such as toxic substance overdose or appendicitis).
Depending on the range of symptoms, a doctor may probe for stomach or digestive problems, including:
In other cases, a doctor may see signs of conditions with a strong psychological aspect, such as bulimia or psychiatric cyclic vomiting syndrome (a disorder of unknown cause with frequent vomiting followed by symptom-free periods).
There are also times when a doctor may suspect pregnancy.
A short episode of vomiting isn’t usually concerning, Dr. Goldman says. But you should see your healthcare provider if certain other symptoms accompany the vomiting.
Watch for decreased urination in any child who is having trouble with vomiting. For infants, this means no wet diapers within 6 hours. Also, if the infant is experiencing projectile vomiting, call your provider.
In all kids, watch for green color in vomit as well as fever of 102 (or fever of 101 for more than 3 days).
Also, look for these signs of dehydration:
If any symptom(s) concern you, call your healthcare provider.
If your child has an illness that’s causing vomiting, Dr. Goldman offers these tips:
Give fluids. Encourage your child to drink water or other rehydration fluids. Jello and Popsicles® may also help. Avoid juices with high sugar content (apple, pear, cherry) and sports drinks.
Don’t push food. “Remember, it’s common for kids to have little or no appetite during the vomiting process,” Dr. Goldman says. “Monitor them for dehydration, but don’t force them to eat.”
Go slow. Once the vomiting stops, you can help your child ease back into his or her regular diet starting with small amounts of complex carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, bread).
Watch your child’s symptoms carefully and, if vomiting continues or resumes, work with your healthcare provider to pinpoint the problem.
If you have a baby who is vomiting, advice varies based on whether he or she is breastfed or bottle-fed:
Sometimes, children get sick. They go through illnesses as they build a stronger immune system.
Good hand-washing habits can help your child avoid some illnesses that cause vomiting. Encourage your children to wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds. Remind them to scrub fingernails and in between the fingers as well.
Vomiting is one of those symptoms we all dread, especially for our kids. Remember that your provider is there to help.