Stopping Vomiting and Diarrhea

Boy (2-4) sitting on toilet, low section, close-up of feet

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What causes vomiting and diarrhea? What is the best way to treat it? Are the rumors that flat Coke and flat 7 UP true?

Causes of Vomiting and Diarrhea in Children

Infections, especially viral infections, are among the most common causes of diarrhea and vomiting in children. Most of the time a typical child with diarrhea and vomiting has a simple viral infection. These may include rotavirus infection, which usually affects children under the age of 5 and others.

Other possible causes may include:

  • Infections with bacteria or parasites
  • Food allergies
  • Food intolerances - Here are some common foods which can cause diarrhea
  • Food poisoning
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

How to Treat Vomiting or Diarrhea Symptoms

In general, when it is caused by a virus, there isn't a lot that you can do to stop a child from having vomiting and diarrhea. In some ways, that's okay. Some scientists believe that vomiting and diarrhea play an important role in these infections, by ridding the body of the microorganism causing the problem in the first place.

Over the counter medications to stop diarrhea, such as Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, or Kaopectate, aren't recommended for younger children, and could potentially be dangerous. And medicines to stop vomiting, like Phenergan, aren't used much because of the common side effect of making children so sleepy that they don't drink enough to keep from getting dehydrated.

Emetrol is sometimes used to help control the symptom of nausea. The combination of glucose, fructose, and phosphoric acid coats the stomach and neutralizes stomach acid.

Acidophilus and yogurt that contains acidophilus are recognized treatments for diarrhea, but the effects of treatment may not be that impressive depending on the causes of diarrhea. One study tested the effects of yogurt with acidophilus and another probiotic, versus yogurt with no acidophilus on children who had diarrhea caused by antibiotic use. The children who ate the yogurt with probiotics had reduced diarrhea. On the other hand, another study found that a lactobacillus acidophilus mixture had no effect on children hospitalized with diarrhea. There seem to be few side effects of this kind of treatment, especially if your child enjoys eating yogurt.

Fluids for Vomiting and Diarrhea

Soda, whether it is Coke or 7 UP, is not a good fluid to give a child with vomiting and diarrhea. Oral rehydration solutions, like Enfalyte, Pedialyte, LiquiLyte, or Rehydralyte, are much better options, as they have the right mix of sugar and electrolytes to prevent and treat dehydration.

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to let their children drink as much as they like - or even to encourage drinking large amounts of fluids - due to fear of dehydration. Unfortunately, this often backfires, and the child loses all of this fluid. A good rule of thumb is to try to get your child to drink small amounts of fluid (preferably an oral rehydration solution over soda) often. For example, offering a teaspoon or maybe two at most every 5 minutes.

Food for Diarrhea - The BRAT Diet

If your child is actively vomiting, or if her diarrhea is fairly steady, she may not feel like eating, and that's okay. Kids can go for quite a while without eating, as long as they are getting fluids and not becoming dehydrated.

 When she is ready to eat, the BRAT diet is a good place to start. These initials stand for:

  • B - Bananas
  • R - Rice
  • A - Applesauce
  • T - Toast

When to See Your Pediatrician

Most episodes of vomiting and diarrhea due to simple viral infections resolve on their own with a little TLC. If your "gut instinct" tells you something is wrong you definitely want to call your doctor or make an appointment, but most of the time your child will feel much more comfortable at home. Symptoms that suggest you should call include lethargy, symptoms of dehydration, any blood in her vomit or stool, abdominal pain, headaches, or confusion.

If your child is moderately dehydrated or worse, make sure to call your pediatrician. Symptoms of dehydration in children include:

  • No tears with crying
  • No wet diapers for 3 hours or more, or decreased urination in an older child
  • Sunken cheeks and eyes
  • Inactivity and listlessness
  • Irritability
  • Dark colored urine
11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Rotavirus infections.

  3. Seattle Childrens Hospital. Vomiting with diarrhea.

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  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. How to treat diarrhea in infants and young children.

  6. Harvard Health Publishing. Nausea. What is it?

  7. Fox MJ, Ahuja KDK, Robertson IK, et al. Can probiotics yogurt prevent diarrhea in children on antibiotics? A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studyBMJ OPEN 2015; 5:e006474. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006474

  8. Pinto JM, Petrova A. Lactobacillus acidophilus mixture in treatment of children hospitalized with acute diarrheaClin Pediatr (Phila). 2016;55(13):1202–1209. doi:10.1177/0009922815616075

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  11. KidsHealth (Nemours). Dehydration.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.