Vomiting in Children

For children of 12 and over, see chart 20

Children vomit as a result of many illnesses, including ear infections and urinary and digestive tract disorders. Anxiety or excitement may also cause vomiting. Rarely, vomiting may be due to an infection or injury to the brain. If vomiting is persistent, you should consult your doctor urgently.

  • Has your child had a recent head injury?

    • Head injury
      • Possible cause Concussion (see Head injuries) is a possibility.

        Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance. Do not allow your child to eat or drink.

    • No head injury

      Does your child have any of the following symptoms?

      • Severe headache
        • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is possible.

          Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

      • Abnormal drowsiness or confusion
        • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is possible.

          Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

      • Dislike of bright light
        • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is possible.

          Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

      • Neck pain on bending the head forwards
        • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is possible.

          Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

      • None of the above

        How old is your child?

        • Under 3 months

          Apart from the vomiting, does your baby seem generally unwell – for example, is he or she feverish or drowsy?

          • Unwell
            • Possible cause There may be many possible causes for these symptoms. However, any young baby who seems unwell and vomits needs prompt medical attention.

              Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

          • Well

            What are the characteristics of the vomiting?

            • Frequent and effortless vomiting after feeds
              • Possible cause This type of regurgitation is rarely serious and has several possible causes (see Feeding problems in babies).

                Self-help Make sure you “burp” your baby and keep him or her upright for 30 minutes after feeding. Consult your doctor if your baby seems unwell or fails to gain weight.

            • Forceful vomiting after several feeds
              • Possible cause This type of vomiting may be the result of a digestive tract problem, such as pyloric stenosis in infants.

                Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

            • Occasional vomiting not necessarily associated with feeding
              • Possible cause Babies often vomit for no particular reason, and this is no cause for concern if your baby seems generally well and is gaining weight (see Feeding problems in babies).

                Self-help Be sure to “wind” your baby after each feed. Consult your doctor if your baby seems unwell or vomits frequently.

        • 3 months or over

          Does your child seem to have abdominal pain?

          • Yes
            • Possible cause These symptoms may indicate a serious abdominal condition, such as appendicitis.

              Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

          • No

            Did vomiting follow a violent bout of coughing?

            • Followed coughing
              • Possible cause Your child may have pertussis. An infection that causes severe coughing, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia, can also cause vomiting.

                Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

            • No coughing

              Does your child have diarrhoea?

              • Diarrhoea
                • Possible cause This could be a digestive tract infection (see Vomiting and diarrhoea).

                  Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately if your child is under 6 months old. For older children, follow the self-help measures for vomiting and diarrhoea and consult your doctor if there is no improvement in 24 hours or if other symptoms develop.

              • No diarrhoea

                Does your child have any of the following symptoms?

                • Pain on passing urine
                • Renewed bedwetting or daytime “accidents”
                • Temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
                • None of the above
                  • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s vomiting from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance if your child’s vomiting is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Green or bright yellow vomit.
  • Abdominal pain for 4 hours.
  • Flat, dark-red or purple spots that do not fade when pressed.
  • Refusal to drink or feed (in babies) for over 6 hours.
  • Abnormal drowsiness.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Dry tongue.
  • Passing no urine during the day for 3 hours (if child is under 1 year old) or 6 hours (in an older child).
  • Black or bloodstained faeces.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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