Children's Hospital Colorado

Vomiting Without Diarrhea

Urgent or Emergency Care?

If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Not sure what counts as urgent and what's an emergency when your child is sick or injured? When it can't wait, know where to take your kids.

Help Me Decide

  • Vomiting (throwing up) stomach contents
  • It's normal for nausea (upset stomach) to come before each bout of vomiting
  • Other names for vomiting are puking, barfing and heaving

Causes of Vomiting

  • Viral Gastritis. Stomach infection from a stomach virus is the most common cause. Also called stomach flu. A common cause is the Rotavirus. The illness starts with vomiting. Watery loose stools may follow within 12-24 hours.
  • Food Poisoning. This causes rapid vomiting within hours after eating the bad food. Diarrhea may follow. Caused by toxins from germs growing in foods left out too long. An example is Staph toxin in egg salad.
  • Ibuprofen Overdose. Ibuprofen products (such as Advil) can be a stomach irritant. If taken on an empty stomach, it can cause vomiting.
  • Food Allergy. Vomiting can be the only symptom of a food reaction. The vomiting comes on quickly after eating the food. Common foods are peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish (such as shrimp).
  • Coughing. Hard coughing can also cause your child to throw up. This is more common in children with reflux.
  • Motion Sickness. Vomiting and dizziness are triggered by motion. Sea sickness or fun-park ride sickness are the most common types. Strongly genetic.
  • Migraine Headaches. In children, most migraine headaches also have vomiting.
  • Serious Causes. Vomiting alone (without diarrhea) should stop within about 24 hours. If it lasts over 24 hours, you must think about more serious causes. Examples are appendicitis, a kidney infection, diabetes and head injury. A serious cause in young babies is pyloric stenosis. See below for more on this.
  • Cyclic Vomiting. Cyclic vomiting is the most common cause of recurrent attacks of vomiting. Attacks have a sudden onset and offset. Often occur in children who later develop migraine headaches.

Pyloric Stenosis (Serious Cause)

  • The most common cause of true vomiting in young babies.
  • Onset of vomiting is age 2 weeks to 2 months
  • Vomiting is forceful. It becomes projectile and shoots out.
  • Right after vomiting, the baby is hungry and wants to feed. ("hungry vomiter")
  • Cause: The pylorus is the channel between the stomach and the gut. In these babies, it becomes narrow and tight.
  • Risk: Weight loss or dehydration
  • Treatment: Cured by surgery.

Vomiting Scale

  • Mild: 1 - 2 times/day
  • Moderate: 3 - 7 times/day
  • Severe: Vomits everything, nearly everything or 8 or more times/day
  • Severity relates even more to how long the vomiting goes on for. At the start of the illness, it's common for a child to vomit everything. This can last for 3 or 4 hours. Children then often become stable and change to mild vomiting.
  • The main risk of vomiting is dehydration. Dehydration means the body has lost too much fluid.
  • The younger the child, the greater the risk for dehydration.

Dehydration: How to Tell

  • The main risk of vomiting is dehydration. Dehydration means the body has lost too much water.
  • Vomiting with watery diarrhea is the most common cause of dehydration.
  • Dehydration is a reason to see a doctor right away.
  • Your child may have dehydration if not drinking much fluid and:
  • The urine is dark yellow and has not passed any in over 8 hours.
  • Inside of the mouth and tongue are very dry.
  • No tears if your child cries.
  • Slow blood refill test: longer than 2 seconds. First, press on the thumbnail and make it pale. Then let go. Count the seconds it takes for the nail to turn pink again. Ask your doctor to teach you how to do this test.
  • A child with severe dehydration becomes too weak to stand. They can also be very dizzy when trying to stand.

Call 911 Now

  • Can't wake up
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Go to ER Now

  • Hard to wake up
  • Acts or talks confused
  • Not alert when awake ("out of it")
  • Stiff neck (can't touch chin to the chest)
  • Blood in the vomit that's not from a nosebleed
  • Bile (green color) in the vomit. Exception: stomach juice which is yellow.
  • Appendicitis suspected (pain low on right side, won't jump, wants to lie still)
  • Poisoning suspected
  • Swallowed object (such as coin) suspected

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Headache
  • Dehydration suspected. No urine in more than 8 hours, dark urine, very dry mouth and no tears.
  • Stomach pain when not vomiting. Exception: stomach pain or crying just before vomiting is quite common.
  • Diabetes suspected (drinking lots, frequent urine, weight loss)
  • Kidney infection suspected (side or back pain, fever, painful to pass urine)
  • Age less than 12 weeks old with vomiting 2 or more times. Exception: normal spitting up.
  • Severe vomiting (vomits everything) more than 8 hours while getting clear fluids
  • High-risk child (such as diabetes, stomach or head injury)
  • Weak immune system. Examples are: sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids.
  • Vomiting a prescription medicine
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
  • Age less than 12 weeks old with fever. Caution: do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Age less than 1 year with vomiting
  • Vomits for more than 24 hours
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • Fever returns after being gone more than 24 hours
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Vomiting is a frequent problem
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild or moderate vomiting (most likely viral gastritis)

Care Advice for Vomiting without Diarrhea

  1. What You Should Know About Vomiting Without Diarrhea:
    • Most vomiting is caused by a viral infection of the stomach. Sometimes, mild food poisoning is the cause.
    • Vomiting is the body's way of protecting the lower gut.
    • The good news is that stomach illnesses last only a short time.
    • The main risk of vomiting is dehydration. Dehydration means the body has lost too much fluid.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Formula Fed Babies - Give Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) for 8 Hours:
    • ORS is a special fluid that can help your child stay hydrated. You can use Pedialyte or the store brand of ORS. It can be bought in food stores or drug stores.
    • If vomits more than once, offer ORS for 8 hours. If you don't have ORS, use formula until you can get some.
    • Spoon or syringe feed small amounts. Give 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 mL) every 5 minutes.
    • After 4 hours without throwing up, double the amount.
    • Return to Formula. After 8 hours without throwing up, go back to regular formula.
  3. Breastfed Babies - Reduce the Amount Per Feeding:
    • If vomits more than once, nurse for 5 minutes every 30 to 60 minutes. After 4 hours without throwing up, return to regular nursing.
    • If continues to vomit, switch to ORS (such as Pedialyte). Do this for 4 hours.
    • Spoon or syringe feed small amounts of ORS. Give 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 mL) every 5 minutes.
    • After 4 hours without throwing up, return to regular feeding at the breast. Start with small feedings of 5 minutes every 30 minutes. As your baby keeps down the smaller amounts, slowly give more.
  4. Older Children (over 1 Year Old) - Offer Small Amounts of Clear Fluids For 8 Hours:
    • Water or ice chips are best for older children. Reason: Water is easily absorbed in the stomach.
    • Other clear fluids: Use half-strength Gatorade. Make it by mixing equal amounts of Gatorade and water. Can mix flat lemon-lime soda the same way. ORS (such as Pedialyte) is usually not needed in older children. Popsicles work great for some kids.
    • The key to success is giving small amounts of fluid. Offer 2-3 teaspoons (10-15 mL) every 5 minutes. Older kids can just slowly sip a clear fluid.
    • After 4 hours without throwing up, increase the amount.
    • After 8 hours without throwing up, return to regular fluids.
    • Caution: If vomits over 12 hours, switch to ORS or half-strength Gatorade.
  5. Stop All Solid Foods:
    • Avoid all solid foods and baby foods in kids who are vomiting.
    • After 8 hours without throwing up, gradually add them back.
    • Start with starchy foods that are easy to digest. Examples are cereals, crackers and bread.
  6. Do Not Give Medicines:
    • Stop using any drug that is over-the-counter for 8 hours. Reason: Some of these can make vomiting worse.
    • Fever. Mild fevers don't need to be treated with any drugs. For higher fevers, you can use an acetaminophen suppository (such as FeverAll). This is a form of the drug you put in the rectum (bottom). Ask a pharmacist for help finding this product. Do not use ibuprofen. It can upset the stomach.
    • Call your doctor if: Your child vomits a drug ordered by your doctor.
  7. Try to Sleep:
    • Help your child go to sleep for a few hours.
    • Reason: Sleep often empties the stomach and removes the need to vomit.
    • Your child doesn't have to drink anything if his stomach feels upset and he doesn't have any diarrhea.
  8. Return to School:
    • Your child can return to school after the vomiting and fever are gone.
  9. What to Expect:
    • For the first 3 or 4 hours, your child may vomit everything. Then the stomach settles down.
    • Vomiting from a viral illness often stops in 12 to 24 hours.
    • Mild vomiting and nausea may last up to 3 days.
  10. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Vomits clear fluids for more than 8 hours
    • Vomiting lasts more than 24 hours
    • Blood or bile (green color) in the vomit
    • Stomach ache present when not vomiting
    • Dehydration suspected (no urine in over 8 hours, dark urine, very dry mouth, and no tears)
    • Signs of dehydration occur
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

Disclaimer

The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

  • Not a Substitute - The information and materials in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you.
  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

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