Tummy bugs are a nightmare for parents – and just after the half term holidays, your children may already be picking up the next batch of ‘something going round’. So what can you do if your child is vomiting, and when should you really start to worry?
Why are children sick?
It’s perfectly normal for babies and children to be sick sometimes. Babies often vomit when they swallow lots of air during feeding. A ‘normal’ bout of sickness itself doesn’t usually last more than a day or two, and isn’t a sign of anything serious – it’s most often categorised as being gastroenteritis. That’s an infection of the gut that’s caused by a virus or bacteria – and is often accompanied by mild diarrhoea. Your child's immune system will usually fight off the infection after a few days. However, persistent vomiting can be a sign of something more serious, so call your GP if you’re in any doubt.
What to do
If you’re confident the cause is just a tummy bug, your child should still be feeling well enough to eat, play and be their usual self. Check with the school, most of them prefer you to keep your child at home for at least 24 hours after a bout of sickness has cleared up – just to be on the safe side and prevent a bug spreading further.
If your child does have ‘what’s going round’, doctors generally recommend feeding them as normal and making sure they have regular drinks.
In fact, one of the most important things you can do if your child is vomiting is to make sure they keep drinking fluids to keep them hydrated. If it’s uncomfortable for them, get them to take small sips of fluid (water is best as juices and squash can aggravate diarrhoea).
If your child seems to be dehydrated you could give them an oral rehydration fluid: powder containing sugar and salts in specific amounts, which you mix with water to make a drink. You should be able to buy this at your local chemist.
When to call your GP
Trust your instincts. Monitor your children closely, and if you’re worried about their condition, call your GP. If your child shows any of the symptoms below, call your GP immediately:
- Vomiting for more than 24 hours
- Unable to keep fluids down for the last eight hours, or seems dehydrated
- Floppy, irritable, won’t eat, not their usual self
- Severe tummy pain
- Headache and stiff neck
- High fever
These could be signs of something more serious, so don’t delay. Causes of vomiting other than gastroenteritis do need immediate medical attention. If vomiting is combined with a red, itchy rash, or swelling of the face and/or mouth, this could be a sign of a serious food allergy.
Accidentally swallowing a drug or poison can also cause vomiting, as can appendicitis. If you think there’s a possibility of either scenario, do take your child to A&E: telephone ahead to let them know you’re on your way.