What Is Nausea?

Nausea and vomiting are symptoms of an underlying illness and not a specific disease. Nausea is the sensation that the stomach wants to empty itself, while vomiting or throwing up, is the act of forcibly emptying the stomach. The term “dry heaves” refers to an occurrence of vomiting where there is no food in the stomach to vomit, and only clear secretions are vomited.

What Causes Nausea or Vomiting?

The causes of vomiting differ according to age. For children, it is common for vomiting to occur from a viral infection, food poisoning, milk allergy, motion sickness, overeating or feeding, coughing, blocked intestines, or illnesses in which the child has a high fever.

Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, but they are symptoms of many conditions such as:

  • Acute gastritis (direct irritation of the stomach lining) caused by a stomach flu, food poisoning, alcohol, ulcers, or GERD.
  • Signals from the brain can cause nausea and vomiting due to a headache, an inner ear problem, pain, heat exhaustion, sunburn, increased pressure within the skull caused by brain swelling, tumors, concussions, bleeding, or dehydration.
  • Other illnesses not due to stomach problems such as diabetes, hepatitis, gallbladder disease, pancreatic, Crohn’s disease, kidney diseases, heart attacks, pneumonia, bronchitis, sepsis, and some forms of cancer.
  • Medications and medical treatments
  • Obstruction of the bowel


Treatment for vomiting (regardless of age or cause) includes:

  • Drinking gradually larger amounts of clear liquids. It is important to keep hydrated.
  • Avoiding solid food until the vomiting episode has passed.
  • Pregnant women experiencing morning sickness can eat some crackers before getting out of bed or eat a high protein snack before going to bed.
  • Vomiting associated with cancer treatments can often be treated with another type of drug therapy.

Call a doctor about nausea and vomiting if:

  • The nausea lasts for more than a few days
  • There is a possibility of being pregnant
  • Home treatment is not working, dehydration is present, or a known injury has occurred that may be causing the vomiting

Adults should consult a doctor if diarrhea and vomiting last for more than 24 hours, or there are signs of dehydration.

An infant or child under six years should see the doctor if vomiting lasts more than a few hours, diarrhea is present, signs of dehydration occur, there is a fever, or if the child hasn’t urinated for 4-6 hours. Take a child over age six years to the doctor if vomiting lasts one day, diarrhea combined with vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours, there are any signs of dehydration, there is a fever higher than 101 degrees, or the child hasn’t urinated for six hours.

You should seek immediate medical care if any of the following situations occur with vomiting:

  • There is blood in the vomit
  • You have a severe headache or stiff neck
  • You are lethargy, confused, or a decreased alertness occurs
  • You experience severe abdominal pain
  • You have rapid breathing or rapid pulse