May 29, 2024

Most bouts of vomiting are caused by bugs. Here’s when it could be something more.

It’s a fact of life that no one prepares parents for: Kids vomit. Often at the most inopportune times. But when is kids’ vomiting harmless and when could it signal something more?

The good news is that the vast majority of vomiting in kids is nothing to worry about. It’s most frequently caused by gastroenteritis, a stomach infection often referred to as the stomach flu even though it has no connection to influenza. Gastroenteritis can be caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites and can usually be treated at home with rest and lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Children can also experience vomiting with other ailments, such as urinary tract infections, COVID-19, food poisoning and motion sickness.

When vomiting means more

In rare cases, kids’ vomiting can be a sign of something more serious that requires treatment by a specialist. If your child has any of the following symptoms, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist:

  • Recurrent vomiting (more than three episodes within six months)
  • Food refusal
  • Poor growth or weight loss
  • Vomiting immediately after consuming food or fluids and not at other times
  • Vomiting several hours after a meal

“Those are the some of the most common red flags that there might be something deeper going on,” said Dr. Danielle Orsagh-Yentis, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “Certainly, if a child is vomiting repeatedly over the course of months without explanation, it’s time to make an appointment with a specialist.”

What it could mean

One of those uncommon conditions that can cause vomiting in children is called cyclic vomiting syndrome.

“If a child is vomiting repeatedly over the course of months without explanation, it’s time to make an appointment with a specialist.”

“Cyclic vomiting syndrome is rare, but we do see it from time to time. It involves repetitive bouts of vomiting over a period of several months,” said Orsagh-Yentis. “Each episode can last from hours to days on end, leading to severe dehydration.”

Another cause of vomiting is called rumination syndrome, which is when someone involuntarily regurgitates undigested food soon after eating. Abdominal migraine is a condition that causes sudden, severe stomach pain and vomiting. Many children with abdominal migraine have at least one relative who gets migraine headaches.

Sometimes, vomiting can be due to allergies.

“Eosinophilic esophagitis is actually an allergic condition that can cause vomiting and sometimes poor growth and refusal of feeds in really young children,” said Orsagh-Yentis. “Food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome is another type of allergic disorder that involves projectile repetitive vomiting, often followed by diarrhea. In these cases, we work collaboratively with allergy specialists to manage the condition.”

Most vomiting resolves on its own with rest and fluids. If you’re concerned about your child’s vomiting, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist.

Personalized care for your child

The Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is the largest of its kind in the Southeast. The program provides testing, treatment and management of digestive problems, taking into consideration every aspect of your child’s digestive system to create a personalized care plan.

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