Vomiting (throwing up) and diarrhea (frequent, watery bowel movements) can be harmful because they can cause dehydration. Dehydration occurs when you lose too much fluid. Young children and the elderly can become dehydrated quickly, but dehydration can occur at any age.
Vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by a number of things, including viruses, bacteria, parasites, certain medicines, or certain medical conditions. Foods that are hard to digest (such as too many sweets) and undercooked (raw or partially raw) meat or fish can also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Anyone who has had several bouts of vomiting or diarrhea will need to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
An oral rehydration solution, or ORS, is a great way to replace fluids and nutrients lost through vomiting and diarrhea. An ORS is safe for babies, children, and adults. An ORS can come in several forms, including a powder that you mix with water, a liquid that is already mixed and as frozen popsicles.
Brands of ORS include Pedialyte, Ricelyte, Rehydralyte and the World Health Organization's Oral Rehydration Solution (WHO-ORS). You can purchase these at most grocery stores and drugstores.
To use an ORS for vomiting, try giving small amounts of ORS often, such as 1 teaspoonful every minute. If the person is able to keep the drink down, slowly increase how much you give. If the person vomits after you give the ORS, wait 30 to 60 minutes after the last time he or she vomited, and then give him or her a few sips of an ORS. Small amounts every few minutes may stay down better than a large amount all at once. When the person stops vomiting, you may increase how much of the ORS you give each time and add clear broths or clear sodas. Remember, small amounts are less likely to cause an upset stomach.
If a person only has diarrhea and isn't vomiting, he or she may have an ORS and other liquids as needed. Your doctor may ask you to keep track of how much the child or senior drinks. You can use a dropper, a spoon or a measuring cup to help you keep track.
Probably not. Vomiting and diarrhea usually don't last long. If it's caused by an infection, vomiting and diarrhea are a way for the body to get rid of the infection. Giving medicines that stop vomiting and diarrhea may actually interfere with the body's efforts to heal. Antibiotics are usually not necessary either. Talk to your family doctor if you think you or your child needs medicine.
It can be hard to tell if a person is dehydrated. Usually, by the time a person has signs of dehydration, they have been dehydrated for a while. If you notice any of the following signs of dehydration, especially in babies, children, and the elderly, talk to your doctor. If dehydration is severe, your loved one may need to be given fluids intravenously (by vein through an IV tube) to replace fluids lost through vomiting or diarrhea.
Call your doctor if the vomiting and diarrhea don’t seem to be getting better, or if the person who is vomiting and/or has diarrhea:
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff