For the media

How to win the battle of the barf

By The Health News Team | March 11, 2020
Sick child lying down

When a child in your household is vomiting, either due to a stomach bug (officially known as gastroenteritis), food poisoning or a deep cough that triggers the gag reflex, it’s no fun for anyone. This is why it’s important to know which tools and tricks you need to win the battle of the barf.

“Vomiting is a natural response of the body,” says Dr. Bina Adigopula, a board-certified pediatrician affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “In general, it is not dangerous to throw up, but some guidelines do need to be followed and some questions need to be asked to assess the severity of vomiting and determine a child's risk of dehydration.”

According to Dr. Adigopula, your doctor needs to know the age and weight of your sick child, the frequency of vomiting, and the amount your child has urinated in the past 8 hours. Younger children are at greater risk for dehydration if the vomiting is excessive; decreased urination is a sign that the kidneys are working to maintain the fluid balance in the body.

Surviving the surge
Dr. Adigopula offers the following tips for stomach bug survival:

Keep kids hydrated. Your child should have small amounts of clear liquids in the first 6 to 8 hours, preferably 1 to 2 teaspoons every 15 minutes or 3 ounces every hour, depending on the child’s age. If your infant is breastfed, try feeding for just 5 to 10 minutes every 2 hours and increase the amount as your baby can handle it. By increasing liquids — breastmilk, water, kids’ rehydration drinks, sports drinks or ginger ale — you replace what your child is losing through vomiting.

Know what and when to feed them. If your child has gone 8 hours without vomiting, you can begin to breastfeed your infant as usual or gradually give 1 to 2 ounces of formula to your formula-fed infant and feed older kids bland foods, such as rice, applesauce, toast, cereal and crackers. You can return to your child’s regular diet after 24 hours without vomiting.

Keep them isolated. If possible, keep the sick child in an area separate from other family members and do not share their plates, cups and utensils with others.

Cleaning up the catastrophe
When you can turn your focus away from caring for your little one, keep the following tips in mind to help make cleanup duty go a little quicker. Don’t forget to wear rubber gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water often. And if the smell of vomit turns your stomach, a little vapor rub or essential oil under the nose or mint-flavored lip balm can help.

  • Regularly clean the surfaces of the bathroom where the child vomited — as well as all other hard surfaces, including the TV remote, phone, computer mouse, keyboard, video game controllers and other digital devices — with antibacterial wipes or a disinfectant, such as household bleach.

  • Keep a receptacle, such as a small trash can or bucket, and towels at hand in case your loved one can’t make it to the bathroom. You can create a towel moat around the bed and towel pathway to the toilet.

  • Have extra sets of sheets and pajamas at the ready for a quick change. A waterproof mattress pad can help save you the trouble — and cost — of having to clean the mattress, too.

  • Store soiled sheets, blankets, towels and clothing in large trash bags and place them outside or in a separate room until you can wash them.

  • On soiled sheets, clothing and other fabrics, scrape off excess vomit, treat the fabric with a stain remover, and wash with hot water and detergent (follow the item’s wash instructions).

  • On soiled carpet, scrape off the excess vomit and sprinkle baking soda on the vomit you were unable to remove; wait 15 minutes and then vacuum. Use a sponge or rag to apply a mixture of 1 tablespoon dish soap, 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 2 cups warm water to the vomit stain. Blot the stain with a clean cloth, then use a sponge or rag to apply cold water and blot again until the stain is removed.

In general, a child can return to regular activities, including daycare or school, if they haven’t had a fever in 24 hours or more; are urinating at least every 8 hours; and are able to hold down all food. You should then consider doing a deep clean of all the rooms, linens, kitchenware and surfaces your child may have visited or touched during their illness.

“Contact your doctor if your child throws up more than 20 times in one day or twice an hour; has green vomit or there is blood in the vomit; has decreased urination; refuses to drink or eat at all; or if accompanying fevers are very high or prolonged,” Dr. Adigopula says. “Occasionally, vomiting on and off for months could be a sign of acid reflux, school refusal or another condition, such as undiagnosed asthma, so talk to your doctor is you have concerns.”

Learn more about the American Academy of Pediatricians’ daily fluid requirements during illness.

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