Throwing up is no fun for kids. But it can worry you, too. A kid who’s vomiting but doesn’t have a fever could be dealing with any number of things. Knowing what else to look for can help you narrow down the reasons for your child’s upset stomach --and get their the treatment they need.
This isn’t the same as influenza (the flu). It’s the term people use when they’re talking about an illness called gastroenteritis. Most of the time, gastroenteritis is caused by a virus like rotavirus or norovirus. But you can also get it from bacteria like E. coli or salmonella. Although norovirus can sometimes cause a low-grade fever, you can also have it with no fever at all.
Norovirus is contagious like all viruses. If your child has it, they got it in one of three ways:
- They came into contact with someone who has it.
- They ate food that had the virus in it.
- They touched a surface with the virus on it, then touched their mouth or nose before washing their hands.
Most kids get better within 1 to 3 days, but symptoms may last 7-10 days longer.
Sometimes throwing up is a sign your child is allergic to food they’ve eaten. Throwing up may be their only symptom, but there could also be others, like trouble breathing, hives, repetitive cough, wheezing, or trouble swallowing. Nine out of 10 allergic reactions are linked to the following foods:
- Tree nuts (almonds or walnuts, for example)
- Shellfish (shrimp, for example)
Very young babies who try milk, soy, certain grains, and some other solid foods for the first time are at risk for something called “food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome” (FPIES). It shows up 2 to 6 hours after they eat and makes them throw up many times. They may also have bloody diarrhea or stools flecked with blood. Take your child to the doctor right away if you suspect they have FPIES.
Anytime germs hitch a ride on food your kids eat, there’s a chance they could get a food-borne illness (food poisoning). Some of the bacteria that usually hide in food are:
You can get food poisoning from almost any food, especially if it hasn’t been cooked or stored correctly. The most common culprits are:
- Unwashed vegetables, like lettuce
Your child might start throwing up within a couple of hours of eating contaminated food. Sometimes it can take a day or two for symptoms to show up. Usually, your child will also have nausea, watery diarrhea, and stomach pain.
It’s possible for food poisoning to cause fever, but it’s common for it to cause throwing up with no fever, too. Symptoms can last anywhere from a couple of hours to several days.
In newborns, it can be hard to tell whether they're throwing up or spitting up. Vomit usually comes out with more force than spit-up. Spit-up also tends to be linked to feeding and usually occurs shortly afterwards. Your doctor can help you figure out which one you’re dealing with.
Forceful throwing up in babies is rare, but when it happens, it can be a sign of a blockage in your baby’s intestines. It’s also possible that your little one could have what doctors call “pyloric stenosis.” That means their stomach is too narrow for food to pass through. Both of these are serious problems you should see a doctor about right away.
Kids hit their heads a lot -- especially when they’re learning to walk or if they play sports. Anytime your child gets a head injury, it’s important to watch for signs of a concussion. Throwing up is one of these signs. Others include:
Throwing up and other symptoms may not show up until 24 to 72 hours after your child hits their head.
Seek medical attention immediately if vomiting occurs after your child sustains a head injury.
If your child takes certain medications on an empty stomach, it can make them throw up. Sometimes, vomiting is a sign you’ve given your child too much of certain medications. The most common meds that cause this are:
When your child’s brain gets mixed signals about how they're moving, it can make them feel sick enough to vomit. For example, some kids might feel sick just watching a movie -- their eyes see motion, but their body doesn’t feel motion. Carsickness is common in kids who are too small to see out the car window.
Motion sickness usually starts with a tummy ache or a queasy feeling. Some kids may also sweat, lose their appetite, and not want to eat. Eventually, throwing up starts. It’s a genetic condition. Your child is more likely to have motion sickness if one of their parents did.
About 10% of school-age children deal with migraines. These headaches can happen in kids as young as 18 months old. They cause head pain, but it’s also common for a migraine to make your child throw up. In addition, your child may have:
- Sensitivity to touch, sound, and odors
Experts aren’t clear what causes migraines. It could be caused by something your child is around a lot. It’s also genetic: If one parent has migraines, your child has a 50% chance of getting them. If both their parents have migraines, their chance of getting them goes up to 75%.
if your child has a headache, fever, and vomiting, consult their doctor.
It’s true -- some kids throw up when they’re stressed. It may be because some other health problem, such as an ear infection, is bothering them. Or your child might throw up after crying for a long time. A good way to tell if the throwing up is stress-related is if it happens only once or twice and they don't have any other symptoms like stomach pain or diarrhea.