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Really Important Facts when Your Child is Vomiting

By Dr Temitope Olayinka

"Having children is like living in a frat house - nobody sleeps, everything's broken, and there's a lot of throwing up" - Ray Romano

Photo of an african mother in head gear closely cradling her young baby.

Introduction

Managing the situation when your child is vomiting can be quite distressing.

Vomiting is a very common symptom (not a disease) and could be caused by different conditions.

Vomiting is what happens when a person expels material - liquid or food - from the stomach through the mouth.


Why do kids vomit?

The most common causes in young children could be from infections - of the stomach/bowels; respiratory and urine infections or conditions like Malaria.

However, other conditions could also lead to vomiting in your child that are not infectious.

Some of these causes could be:

  • side effect from medicines,
  • overfeeding (in young babies),
  • head injury,
  • heart or kidney diseases etc

Whichever the case, it is important to identify what is causing the vomiting on each occasion to treat it properly.

However, parents often have to deal with the practicalities of vomiting before they come to see the doctor; and knowing what to do and at which point to contact the doctor are important.

Read on about Bisi's story ....


How did it go so wrong so quickly?

Bisi watched helplessly as the doctor barked out orders while resuscitating her baby; her little boy, Simi.

It seemed like an unending nightmare.

Weeping upon her husband’s shoulder, she prayed silently for her son’s recovery.

Simi was her joy and pride.

She had conceived him less than a year after her marriage to her husband, Dipo.

He was proof that her first husband’s family was wrong when they called her 'barren'.

Furthermore, he was Dipo's only son having had four daughters with his first wife.

Bisi was a businesswoman and her mother had come to live with her to help with Simi’s care and upbringing when he was born.

Simi was a playful two-year-old.

He was always running about the place, exploring and putting things in his mouth.

When he had started vomiting two days earlier, his mum and grandma assumed it was from something he'd picked up - but that it would quickly pass.

But that night, he was less playful, refusing to eat.

A little worried but reluctant to take public transport to the clinic 'in case it was nothing', she thought she'd keep an eye on him till his father returned.

Dipo was due to be back that weekend with their car and they could make a quick trip to the hospital if necessary.


What NOT to Do When Your Child is Vomiting

Besides, her mother had been reassuring; stating that *palm oil would settle his stomach and they could give him some *'pap' to keep up his strength afterwards.

So they'd used the palm oil that night, giving him a little to drink and rubbing some on his body - but he continued vomiting.

The next day, Simi was weaker than before, refusing to get up and play as usual.

His mother had taken the day off work and tried to cajole him to eat a little.

However, her son had refused to eat.

So his grandmother had put him between her legs, pinched his nose with one hand and forced some pap down his throat as he cried weakly.

Simi started coughing and some of the Pap came out through his nose.

Her mother had then stopped and cleaned his face with water as he cried weakly.

‘Maami, please let’s just let him rest’ Bisi had begged, unable to take any more of this treatment.

She had then proceeded to put him in bed so he could sleep.

Soon after, her husband finally arrived.

‘Simi's been ill, but he is resting now’ Bisi reported.

But Baba Simi didn't listen.

He went to see his young son straightaway who was covered in pap; having vomited again in the brief interval his mum had gone to welcome his father.

‘Simi’ he called repeatedly, shaking the boy first gently then more fervently but his son didn’t respond.

He carried his son in his arms and rushed him out.

When Bisi saw Simi’s limp body in his father’s arms, she screamed in anguish, “Yee! I am finished”.

They rushed him into the car and continued to call his name.

He was not responding, and his breathing came in slow short pants.…


Steps to Take When Your Child is Vomiting

Things that you should do if you ever find yourself with a
vomiting child:

  • Do not try to force food or drink into their mouths.
  • Note the contents of the vomitus and, if possible estimate the volume.
  • The colour/appearance of the vomit can be important in some cases. Read here to learn more about the colour of your child's vomit.
  • Vomiting is usually a forceful expulsion of material from the mouth. In some cases, this occurs to an even greater degree and the term used is 'Projectile Vomiting'.
  • Check the temperature of the child; a fever that is very high or not improving with fever medicines necessitates a prompt hospital visit.
  • Watch out for danger signs of dehydration such as lack of tears, less frequent peeing, dry mouth and excessive tiredness or lethargy.
  • Rehydrate your child with clear fluid such as plain boiled water, or constituted oral rehydration solution (ORS) or Dioralyte.
    • If your baby is breastfeeding, breast milk is a suitable fluid replacement.
    • For older children taking water or rehydration fluids, use a teaspoon so the child swallows in sips and stop if the child coughs
  • Let the child lie on their left side after vomiting rather than on their back or tummy.
  • Don’t 'self-prescribe' medication for your child.
  • See the doctor if your child is vomiting frequently and unable to keep down any fluids.
    • Other early warning signs that should prompt a visit to the clinic are weakness or lethargy, having 'stomach pain' or headaches or less frequent urination.


Ways Vomiting Illness May Progress

Most cases of vomiting from infections settle once the infection has resolved or been treated.

In some cases of severe vomiting, admission to hospital is necessary to treat dehydration by using intravenous fluids when taking fluids by mouth is not possible.

The most important takeaway is to seek medical advice early. Children have a small blood volume, so losing a small amount of fluid can quickly lead to complications.

*Pap is a Nigerian corn-based meal made from wet corn starch. When cooked, it has a smooth, thick liquid consistency that is easy to swallow and makes it a favourite weaning food for mums with young babies.
Palm Oil is red oil used in cooking a wide variety of local African dishes - soups, sauces etc.


More Reading:

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team

Disclaimer

All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through info@askawayhealth.org


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