Stomach flu is a common name for what doctors call viral gastroenteritis, according to the staff at MayoClinic.com. Symptoms of stomach flu include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, sometimes fever and—of course—vomiting. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for stomach flu; however, home remedies can help make a sick person feel better and prevent one of the most common complications of stomach flu: dehydration.
Although a number of prescription and over-the-counter medications target vomiting, they are not usually indicated for stomach flu, because vomiting plays an important role in expelling the virus from the body. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing infants and young children on their stomachs or sides to reduce the risk of inhaling vomit into the lungs where it can cause infection or other problems, including suffocation. The same advice works for people with neurological or muscular problems that prevent them from moving into these positions on their own when vomiting starts.
Caregivers should encourage patients to rinse their mouths and even try small sips of clear fluid or ice chips after each episode. If fluids seem to make vomiting worse, the patient should wait 30 to 60 minutes after the next episode before trying to drink again. The Mayo Clinic also recommends steering clear of solid foods—especially dairy products, fatty foods and highly seasoned food—as well as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine until symptoms subside because these can make vomiting worse.
Stomach flu is often accompanied by crampy abdominal pain that may be severe during vomiting. Patients can try over-the-counter remedies such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen; however vomiting may preclude absorption. While a physician can prescribe rectal or other kinds of non-oral medications for pain, these kinds of treatments suggest a problem other than stomach flu. In particular, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), pain that can be localized to a single spot or area on the abdomen, burning or sharp pain, pain accompanied by symptoms other than the ones described earlier, and pain accompanied by bloody vomit or stools should be evaluated by a doctor. For other kinds of pain, patients benefit from rest or a heating pad used according to the manufacturer's directions.
Fever or Feverishness
Although fever does not always accompany stomach flu, vomiting is hard work and frequently leaves the sick person feeling hot and sweaty. People with stomach flu should dress in light, breathable clothes and change as needed. Caregivers can offer a tepid bath or, for patients who are too sick to leave the bed, bathe the sick person's face, arms, neck and chest at the bedside using a basin of cool water and a clean wash cloth or bath sponge. Caregivers should also keep washable cotton blankets at the bedside because patients often vacillate between feeling feverish and feeling chilled. Note: those blankets and other items from the sick person's room can infect others, so they should be washed before they are returned to household use.
Dehydration develops quickly, especially in young children and the elderly, so caregivers should direct their efforts toward replenishing losses. For adults and older children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends clear liquids such as water, broths and fruit juice. For younger children, caregivers should dilute broths and juices because full-strength versions can trigger additional fluid losses and diarrhea. Younger children may not tolerate plain water, plus it lacks electrolytes—of which younger children have less to spare. Good choices for everyone, according to the AAFP, include sports drinks, oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte and clear sodas. Poor choices include caffeinated beverages such as colas, coffee and tea because these can actually exasperate dehydration.
Is This an Emergency?
- MayoClinic.com: Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Treating Vomiting
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Vomiting and Diarrhea in Children
- CDC: Caring for Someone Sick at Home: Tips to Prevent Fluid Loss (Dehydration)
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Nausea and Vomiting