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Vomiting in children

4-minute read

Vomiting is a common sign of illness in children aged between 1 and 5 years, but it can be hard to know for sure what the cause might be. Vomiting is generally a symptom of an infection. Young babies are more likely to vomit, particularly if they have reflux.

When they are sick, children tend to vomit more than adults and some kids are more prone to vomiting than others. Although it can be distressing to watch, most children recover quickly from a vomiting or gastro illness.

What can cause vomiting in children?

  • Viral gastroenteritis, commonly called 'gastro', is one of the most common reasons for acute vomiting in children, although other types of infections such as a cold or urinary tract infection can also cause vomiting.
  • Food poisoning or food allergy can also cause vomiting.
  • Hard coughing can cause vomiting, especially if a child has reflux.
  • Diarrhoea, fever and generally feeling unwell are often present as well during bouts of vomiting.
  • Some children are prone to motion sickness and vomit when they’re in a car or pram.
  • Vomiting can also be a sign of other, more complicated medical conditions such as appendicitis or an obstruction.

What other symptoms might your child have?

Vomiting can be the only symptom a child has when they are unwell and the first sign that something is not right. Some children complain of nausea before they vomit or just seem listless and quiet. The child’s age and development will affect how well they can describe how they feel.

How do I treat my vomiting child at home?

Most cases of vomiting respond well to gentle care at home. What’s important is that your child stays hydrated and drinks plenty of fluids. Breast milk, formula, oral rehydration solution are all suitable, but avoid offering drinks that contain a lot of sugar.

Children are more likely to tolerate small amounts of fluids more frequently than big drinks less often. They may not be interested in eating, but drinking water and other fluids will help them to stay hydrated.

Should my child stay at home?

Keep your child at home when they are vomiting. Even if you suspect the cause is not contagious, they’ll need a couple of quiet days to recover. It's also important to do what you can to support their immune system to help them get better. Sleep and rest, as well as plenty of fluids to drink will help.

How can I limit the spread of vomiting germs?

You should keep your child away from others as much as you can. Don’t share their cups or plates and wash all bed linen, sheets, clothing and towels in hot water.

Make sure to wash and dry your hands carefully after cleaning up vomit and try not to breathe in when your child is actually vomiting. Use disposable paper towels to clean up vomit and a disinfectant spray on surfaces and floors.

What to do when your child is vomiting

  • Stay calm and just be practical. Even if you’re worried or watching them vomit makes you feel sick yourself, it’s important you remain composed.
  • Try to monitor the amount your child is vomiting compared with how much they’re drinking. Also keep an eye on the colour of their urine (wee). Dark yellow or orange wee is a sign of dehydration.
  • Don’t give your child any medication to stop the vomiting unless it’s been prescribed by a doctor.
  • Encourage your child to have a sleep. As long as you can rouse them and they don’t sleep for more than a couple of hours, this can help the stomach to empty and can stop their need to vomit.

When should you see a doctor?

  • If you are worried about your child.
  • If they don’t seem to be getting better. Dehydration is more likely after 12 or more hours, so monitor the length of time your child has been vomiting.
  • If they are not tolerating fluids and vomiting most or all of the fluids they’re drinking and they’re not keeping any fluids down.
  • If their vomit contains blood or bile (green colour).
  • If they seem lethargic or dehydrated.
  • If they are not weeing, look pale and thin, have no tears when they’re crying and their eyes are sunken.
  • If your child has any blood in their poo.
  • If they have tummy pain and/or a fever.
  • If they are complaining of a headache or a rash.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020


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Vomiting in children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

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