Q. When one of my children starts vomiting, how do I know whether to take him to the doctor or wait it out? Also, what is the best way to manage vomiting at home?A. A stomach virus, or gastroenteritis, is a common childhood ailment. Knowing how to manage it at home may help parents avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office. During a typical course, a child will have vomiting for the first 12 to 24 hours followed by diarrhea that may last several days.
Most cases can be managed at home with “oral rehydration therapy,” or offering small amounts of fluids frequently in the early stages. When a child vomits, parents should wait about 45 minutes before offering any fluids. After this, start with small amounts (1-2 teaspoons) every 5-10 minutes. The ideal liquids are electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte. Popsicles are a good alternative for children over age 1 who will not drink an electrolyte solution.
The volume of liquid should be gradually increased over the next several hours. Once a child has gone eight hours without vomiting, then solids can be introduced. If vomiting recurs, then the process starts over. Breastfed infants should continue breastfeeding but for shorter, more frequent periods of time.
The most common complication is dehydration. Parents should watch out for:
• Sunken eyes
• Dry mouth or cracked lips
• Crying without tears
• Excessive irritability
• Decreased energy or lethargy
While vomiting is usually tied to a simple viral infection, it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem. Special caution should be taken for infants younger than 6 months, particularly if the vomiting is accompanied by fever.
Parents should also contact their child’s health care provider if their child has had a recent head injury; is refusing to take liquids; is experiencing severe stomach pains; has fever; has bloody diarrhea; has vomit that is black, dark green or bloody; or is vomiting for longer than 24 hours.