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    When a child throws up -- or even an adult -- it can be scary if the person doesn’t understand what’s happening.

    So what is going on? How can we help people we care about feel better?

    Why We Vomit

    In many cases, throwing up is a protective reflex to rid your body of viruses, bacteria, or parasites in your digestive system.

    “If you were to eat something that was spoiled or poisoned, your body would get a signal that something was wrong,” says Bruno Chumpitazi, MD, of Texas Children’s Hospital. Then, you need to get rid of it.

    This reflex can also be triggered by stress, anxiety, pregnancy, certain medications, and a disruption of the vestibular system, the parts of your inner ear that help control balance, he says.

    Causes

    The most common things that cause us to vomit aren’t usually serious, and they get better on their own. They include:

    Gastroenteritis: Most people know this as the “stomach flu,” and it’s usually the result of a virus. Sometimes bacteria and parasites can cause it, too. It can also bring diarrhea. It typically goes away within 24 to 48 hours.

    The best way to avoid it: Wash your hands -- a lot.

    Food poisoning: This is more common in teens and adults eating a wide variety of food, says Lauren Middlebrooks, MD, of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. You may have diarrhea in addition to the vomiting, but episodes usually last a day or two.

    Motion sickness: Experts aren’t sure why motion sickness affects some more than others. It’s thought to be caused by too much activity in the part of your inner ear that controls balance and eye movement. It may also happen when your brain gets conflicting messages from parts of your body that sense motion -- like your eyes and the nerves inside your muscles.

    “Motion sickness is common in kids, although some grow out of it,” says Kenya Parks, MD, of the University of Texas McGovern Medical School. “Parents can help by teaching children how to focus on the horizon and making sure they get plenty of fresh air.”