Fever and vomiting are common in children but worrisome to parents and other caregivers. In fact, these symptoms are among the most common reasons for taking children to the emergency room, according to an August 2005 study published in "Academic Emergency Medicine." Digestive system infections are the leading cause of these symptoms. An infection elsewhere in the body or appendicitis might also be the culprit. Accompanying signs and symptoms help distinguish among possible causes of fever and vomiting in children.
Digestive System Infections
Gastroenteritis -- an infection of the stomach and/or intestines -- is the most common cause of fever and throwing up in children. According to the 2011 publication of "Netter's Pediatrics," it is estimated that more than 20 million cases of gastroenteritis occur each year in the United States. This type of infection is usually accompanied by watery diarrhea and stomach pain. Gastroenteritis is most commonly the result of viruses but can also be caused by bacteria or parasites. If it occurs after a child has eaten food contaminated with a virus or bacteria, it is sometimes called food poisoning. Gastroenteritis is also commonly known as a "stomach bug" or "stomach virus."
Fevers are usually caused by viral or bacterial infections. Infections that cause fevers often also cause throwing up in children. Infections in the throat, such as strep throat, are a common cause of fever and vomiting in children. Even ear infections can bring on these symptoms. Lung infections, like pneumonia, and bladder infections can also cause fever and vomiting in children. These symptoms sometimes signal less common but more serious infections like meningitis -- an infection of the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is associated with other symptoms, including extreme sleepiness, neck stiffness and sometimes a rash.
Appendicitis and Other Possible Causes
Fever and vomiting associated with severe abdominal pain can signal appendicitis. The appendix is a small structure in the intestines, located in the right lower part of the stomach. Sometimes it gets swollen and inflamed, a condition known as appendicitis. Signs of this illness include severe pain in the right lower stomach accompanied by fever, vomiting and poor appetite. Appendicitis is an emergency and requires immediate treatment, which typically includes antibiotics and surgery to remove the appendix. Bloodstream infections and pertussis, also known as whooping cough, may lead a child to have fever and vomiting, but these are less common causes.
When to Seek Medical Care
Dehydration is one of the most dangerous consequences of fever and vomiting, so make sure your child is getting plenty of fluids. Although most children with fever and vomiting recover quickly without treatment, these symptoms sometimes indicate a serious problem. Seek medical care immediately if your child has any of the following signs and symptoms: severe stomach pain, vomiting that is not improving, sluggishness or drowsiness, rapid or difficult breathing, or a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Even if your child doesn't have any of these symptoms, it's still important to call your doctor if your child is younger than 3 months; has fever and vomiting for more than 12 hours; or the fever lasts longer than 3 days.
- Academic Emergency Medicine: A System for Grouping Presenting Complaints: The Pediatric Emergency Reason for Visit Clusters; Marc Gorelick et al.
- Netter's Pediatrics; Todd A. Florin, et al.
- Emergency Medicine Journal: Nausea, Vomiting, and Fever
- American Family Physician: Gastroenteritis in Children: Part I. Diagnosis
- HealthyChildren.org: When to Call the Pediatrician: Fever