Types of Vomiting in Children: Causes and Treatments

There are several types of vomiting in children. We can differentiate them through their characteristics and the accompanying symptoms.
Types of Vomiting in Children: Causes and Treatments
Leidy Mora Molina

Written and verified by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 23 September, 2022

There are different types of vomiting in children, which are distinguished by the characteristics they present. Although it’s an annoying symptom, it’s one of the most frequent in childhood and is produced as a physiological defense response to stimuli of varying nature.

Here, we’ll tell you what the types of vomiting in children are, the causes that most often produce them, and the treatment to relieve this uncomfortable digestive manifestation. Keep reading!

What is vomiting?

Vomiting or emesis is the sudden expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth. In children, it’s a fairly common symptom, as is regurgitation, which is a slow, scarce, and repeated expulsion of gastric contents.

Although vomiting isn’t the problem in itself, it’s an indication that something isn’t working properly. The causes that provoke them are varied, and to guide us a little more about the origin, we must evaluate the characteristics: Color, quantity, frequency, and accompanying symptoms.

Particularly, vomiting in infants is scarce, sometimes frequent, and usually appears after meals. In general, it’s not accompanied by signs of illness and disappears as their digestive system matures. In fact, the term emesis is often used incorrectly when it’s actually regurgitation.

In older children, vomiting isn’t normal and whenever it occurs, the source should be sought. Although the most common cause is digestive or respiratory disorders (such as the expulsion of swallowed mucus), we shouldn’t overlook other possible causes: Infections, intracranial lesions, intoxication, or mechanical obstructions in the intestine, among others.

Types of vomiting in children

Depending on the nature of the vomiting, we can determine two general types:

  • Functional vomiting: This is the physiological type, related to digestive immaturity, which isn’t accompanied by other symptoms or pre-existing disease. In general, they don’t affect the weight or health status of the child.
  • Organic vomiting: This type includes those emesis related to a disease or an anatomical problem. They’re usually accompanied by other typical manifestations of each condition, such as diarrhea, general malaise, or fever. They should be identified and treated as soon as possible to avoid other complications in children, such as dehydration.

When vomiting is repeated, doesn’t subside with the usual measures, and is accompanied by other symptoms in the child, it’s important to request a pediatric evaluation to begin treatment as soon as possible.

A newborn baby who's spit up.
The younger the child, the greater the risk of severe dehydration. For this reason, when vomiting has an organic cause, the key is to keep the child well hydrated until the problem is resolved.

Causes of vomiting in children

There are many conditions that can trigger vomiting as part of their spectrum of symptoms, and these range from simple indigestion to brain problems.

To assess whether vomiting is functional or organic, we must first evaluate the characteristics of the vomiting. One of the most important distinguishing signs is color.

White

It’s usually typical functional vomiting in infants and acquires this color because of the milk that is ingested before it occurs. One of the reasons is gastroesophageal reflux (often physiological) and others, overfeeding.

You may be interested in: The Difference Between Acid Reflux and GERD

Greenish or yellowish

This type of vomiting is usually the result of the return of food from the intestines. It’s associated with infections, intestinal obstructions, allergies, food poisoning, or cranial injuries. Even so, this vomiting can also be the result of less serious conditions, such as colds, flu, or after ingestion of food with these shades.

Red

This is another type of vomit that we should pay attention to, as it’s the result of active bleeding at the level of the stomach or esophagus. It may be the result of mucosal irritations, such as esophagitis or gastritis, or stomach ulcers.

The magnitude of the bleeding will determine the degree of urgency. However, whenever they appear, the child should go to the emergency center to be evaluated by a professional.

Black

Black vomit is also the result of gastrointestinal bleeding, either high or low. Its coloring implies that the blood was in contact with gastric acid, so it usually corresponds to a past injury or a small amount.

How is vomiting treated?

Vomiting in children should be evaluated by the pediatrician to determine its cause and provide the most appropriate treatment for each situation. If it’s sporadic, scarce, and doesn’t affect weight or hydration status, then it doesn’t warrant specific treatment. In the case of young infants, it’s possible to make certain modifications in feeding patterns in order to improve them.

However, when vomiting is secondary to a gastrointestinal infection, the pediatrician will indicate the measures they consider appropriate. Antiemetics, such as ondansetron or metoclopramide, should only be administered in cases that warrant it. Likewise, if vomiting is intense and accompanied by diarrhea, it’s best to resort to oral rehydration solutions to avoid dehydration.

Once the consultation has been made, it’s important to follow the pediatrician’s instructions to a tee and to know that in general, vomiting usually subsides in 1 or 2 days.

A holding a large bowl in front of her because she feels nauseous.
Vomiting is one of the most frequent digestive symptoms. And although they usually subside quickly, when this doesn’t happen, it’s important to consult the pediatrician.

When should we consider vomiting in children as a sign of alarm?

Vomiting is usually mild and subsides quickly. However, we should pay attention to it and go to an urgent pediatric checkup in case of any of the following situations:

  • If the baby is less than 3 months old and has vomited more than 2 feedings.
  • If the vomit is green, red, brown, or blackish.
  • If the child shows signs of dehydration, such as general malaise, dry mouth and eyes, thirst, poor urine output, or sunken eyes.
  • If the child vomits frequently and doesn’t tolerate fluids that are attempted to be replaced by mouth.
  • When vomiting is accompanied by constant and severe abdominal pain, which increases over time.
  • If vomiting occurs in the context of fever, headache, dizziness, or neck stiffness.

It’s important to maintain the hygiene of the food offered to children, favor a balanced diet, and comply with the vaccination schedule, which includes doses of rotavirus vaccine. This way, we can prevent many diseases that favor this annoying symptom.

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