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Throwing Up Mucus: Uncovering the Common Causes of This Unpleasant Symptom

Editorial Team
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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What Are the Most Common Causes of Vomiting Mucus?

Vomiting mucus can be a distressing symptom, often linked to various health conditions. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, allergies are a leading cause of postnasal drip, which can lead to mucus accumulation and potentially result in throwing up mucus. Furthermore, the American Academy of Otolaryngology states that chronic sinusitis, often associated with colds, affects 1 in 7 adults and can also contribute to this symptom. For those suffering from acid reflux, the American Gastroenterological Association reports that about 20% of the U.S. population experiences reflux symptoms weekly, which can include the regurgitation of mucus. Understanding these common triggers is crucial for addressing the underlying issue and finding relief from throwing up mucus.

Mucus Basics

Mucus is a fluid that is secreted by the body’s mucus membranes. It is a thick, gum-like substance that occurs normally in places like the respiratory and digestive tracts — places that depend on the constant movement of different particles. It coats the walls of the nasal passages to collect outside elements like dust or pollen that might irritate someone and cause him or her to sneeze, for example, and it lubricates the air passages, making it easier to breathe. In the esophagus and stomach it acts as a coating to protect these organs from stomach acid that is released as a normal part of digestion.

A healthy human body produces anywhere from a quart to a gallon (0.94 to 3.78 liters) of mucus a day. When illness strikes, though, production often goes significantly up, and this is when vomiting becomes more likely. Irritation often triggers an immune response in the body, prompting more mucus to help either flood out the bacteria or virus or block the way for its spread. Excesses that flow into the throat or esophagus often cause vomiting not as a result of any sort of independent stomach problem, but rather as a consequence of overload.

Respiratory Problems

People often produce the most mucus when they’re suffering from a cold, an upper respiratory infection, an allergy attack, or a coughing fit. In these instances, the mucus leaks from the sinuses and runs down the back of the throat — called “post-nasal drip” in medical circles — or is coughed up from the lungs; it may then be swallowed and end up in the stomach. When a person swallows too much of this secretion, it can cause vomiting as the body’s way of getting rid of it. Too much mucus or mucus that is very thick often causes nausea, too, and one of the body's natural responses is to trigger vomiting to ease that nausea.

Implications for Children

One of the biggest reasons young children sometimes fall prone to vomiting mucus is because of their generally sensitive gag reflex. A child with a cold, allergies, or a lung infection will typically secrete a great deal of mucus. That child may cough so forcefully trying to clear his or her airway that he or she triggers the gag reflex, and vomiting is often the inevitable result. In addition, children tend to swallow mucus rather than spitting it out or "coughing it clear" as adults do. This may occur when children have a severe infection, such as a sinus infection that creates thick, excessive secretions of mucus, or when they are too young to understand what’s happening.

Acid Reflux

Another cause of vomiting mucus may be due to acid reflux, which is also frequently called “heartburn” because of the burning, tight sensation it tends to cause in the upper chest. In people who suffer from heartburn, the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. In order to protect itself, the body produces more mucus secretions. This excessive secretion is often swallowed back down into the stomach, and when there is too much, a person might feel ill and vomit up the excess.

Treatment and Prevention

There isn’t usually a cure for mucus vomiting and the condition will generally go away on its own as soon as the underlying cause — allergies, for instance, or a cough — disappears. People who have excessive mucus or find that they are constantly swallowing it or vomiting it back up may want to get the advice of a qualified healthcare provider, though. Certain medications can help keep mucus levels in check, which can reduce the risk of nausea and vomiting. Certain antacids can also help keep heartburn under control. Regularly clearing the nasal passageways and spitting rather than swallowing mucus that drips into the mouth can help, as well.

Constant mucus secretions and vomiting that seems to happen outside of some other identifiable condition may indicate some more serious condition, and should usually be evaluated. Infants and young children should also usually be treated for persistent mucus secretions to avoid the risk of choking, particularly during the night.

Throwing Up Mucus in the Morning

One of the most common causes of throwing up mucus in the morning is morning sickness. When a pregnant person has been sleeping all night, the body digests any food that was in the stomach at bedtime. If the person wakes up with nausea that causes vomiting, the vomit may appear clear, foamy, or look like it has mucus in it. This is typically nothing to worry about. The problem is simply that there was no food in the stomach so the body only expels mucus and digestive acids.

Sometimes, over-the-counter medication will help with symptoms of morning sickness (which can actually occur at any time of day). Other times, an obstetrician or family doctor may need to prescribe a stronger medication. Some pregnant people find it easier to leave crackers by their bedside for the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, and some find treatments such as acupuncture or acupressure to ease some of the symptoms.

Other Causes of Vomiting Mucus

Outside of pregnancy or food allergies, there are many other reasons that a person may vomit mucus or foam.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Someone who has type 1 diabetes may experience diabetic ketoacidosis. DKA is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. It occurs when a diabetic person's insulin levels drop dangerously low. In addition to nausea and vomiting, DKA may cause dehydration, confusion, and abdominal pain.

Food Poisoning

Did you forget your mayonnaise-covered sandwich in the car but eat it anyway? Maybe a restaurant undercooked your steak. Regardless of how it happened, food poisoning is nothing to scoff at. It can last for hours or even days, depending on the severity. Many people find they end up vomiting mucus and foam as there is nothing left in the stomach to digest. Other symptoms of food poisoning include diarrhea, nausea, headache, fever, and severe abdominal pain.

Postnasal Drip

Sometimes, the cause of vomiting mucus has nothing to do with what's going on in your stomach. If you are experiencing more mucus than usual in your nose and throat, you are probably inadvertently swallowing some. If the feeling causes you to cough too hard or too often, you may end up vomiting some of the mucus back up. Postnasal drip occurs for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most common include allergies, bacterial or viral infections, sinus infections, eating spicy foods, or weather changes.

Vomiting Mucus After Eating

Vomiting after eating is not a big concern if it does not happen often. However, if you find that you are vomiting mucus after eating regularly, there could be an underlying problem.

Food Allergies

Consider what you eat that causes you to vomit afterward. If it is the same type of food, such as red meat, seafood, or dairy products, it may be because you have an allergy or an intolerance to the food. Your body considers them harmful and your immune system is trying to get rid of the problem. Some allergies can be life-threatening, so it is recommended to visit a medical professional. After an allergy test, you may be prescribed life-saving medication in case you come into contact with the allergies again.

Gastroesophageal Disease

Everybody gets heartburn from time to time, but if you find that you get it nearly every time you eat, and if it is followed by vomiting, you may have gastroesophageal disease, which is more commonly known as GERD. GERD causes the valve between your stomach and esophagus to malfunction. It is looser than it should be, which allows stomach acid and the stomach's mucus lining to leak up into the esophagus. Other symptoms may include feeling full, having a sour taste in the back of your mouth, or indigestion. GERD is common, with about 20% of the Western world being diagnosed. It is also more common in people who have a hiatal hernia.

When To Talk To a Doctor About Vomiting

There are times when it is imperative to see a doctor about vomiting. If it has lasted more than a few days or if you may be pregnant, seek medical care. If vomiting is related to an infection or a head injury, seek emergency medical care. Other times when vomiting requires a doctor visit include if there is a fever, if a child is also dehydrated, or if there is blood in the vomit. Immediate medical attention is also necessary if the vomiting is in combination with a severe headache, decreased alertness, or rapid pulse.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mucus vomiting?

While experiencing mucus vomiting, a person may vomit a thick, slimy liquid that consists primarily of mucus discharges. There may also be other symptoms, such as bloating, nausea, and stomach discomfort. These signs might point to an infection, inflammation, or structural issue with the digestive system.

What are the most common causes of mucus vomiting?

Vomiting mucus is frequently caused by gastrointestinal illnesses, including gastroenteritis or food poisoning. Other probable reasons include Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and a blockage in the intestines. On rare occasions, a reaction to a medication or an allergy may cause it.

Is it dangerous to vomit mucus?

Mucus in the vomit might be an indication of a serious medical problem. Thus, you want to discuss it with your doctor. It can be a sign of an infection or inflammation that requires medical attention. It's critical to rule out any digestive system structural problems.

How is mucus vomiting treated?

Depending on the reason for mucus vomiting, there are many treatments available. If an underlying infection or inflammation exists, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed. Surgery can be required, depending on the extent of the problem. Also, your doctor could suggest changing your habits by exercising, eating less of particular foods, and following a balanced diet.

How can I keep from throwing up mucus?

You may stop mucus vomiting by maintaining proper hygiene, such as often washing your hands and avoiding sick people. Furthermore, crucial are a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and stress management. If you believe you may be in danger of getting an infection or inflammation, it is imperative that you seek medical assistance as soon as you can.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Editorial Team
By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.

Discussion Comments

By anon952779 — On May 22, 2014

I have had an upper respiratory infection and now I get cramps and noticed some vomiting after eating or before eating. Also when I laugh really hard, I throw up clear mucus. I also get cramps in my stomach and feel really fatigue. P.S. I work and go to school plus I stay up late, but I’ve never been this exhausted. Should I be worried? My body feels warm to the touch at times and the lymph nodes under my neck hurt.

By anon945970 — On Apr 15, 2014

I will wake up in the morning, and sometimes throw up after coughing. It's a yellowish/greenish liquid which doesn't burn. I also randomly wake up with terrible heartburn. Thanks for the enlightening article. I'm going to work on the heartburn, and I've been taking allergy medicine which has been helping a bit.

By anon942151 — On Mar 26, 2014

Does your baby drink water? I started giving my daughter water at night two days ago and she threw up all the mucus she had been swallowing tonight around 4 a.m. I'm glad I was awake. Otherwise, she might have choked on it in her sleep. She had a severe cough but all she could do was swallow the phlegm. She isn’t smart enough to spit it out yet. She’s only 13 months old.

I just think about how I feel when I forget to drink water and drink milk and other things like soda, etc. I get thick mucus. On top of the cold she had, I kind of put it together. I got her diet and sleeping perfect also during this water binge and I think I'm going to continue it. She isn’t coughing in her sleep anymore. That usually kept her awake. Since she threw up two hours ago, I'm just sitting here watching her while browsing the net about it.

Don’t slack on taking the time to feed your child nutritious things rather than just handing them a bottle. My daughter will act like she doesn’t want the bottle, but will devour some Gerber or cereal 80 percent of the time (she will eat my food anytime, even after she is full and I try to sneak my meal, but I always give her some just to boost the diversity of her diet and to fill her up). Sometimes though, she wants a bottle and she actually drinks water pretty well (better than I thought she would) with a little infant spoon of sugar added to about 3-4 ounces of water.

I try to get her sunlight anytime it’s warm out. I’m waiting for the weather to stop fluctuating so she doesn’t get sick again! I think that’s healthy for her. For some reason, the sun, the breeze, the buzzing and moving calms her cold down, but I'm crossing my fingers not trying to jump the gun, but I think her mucus is gone, after the amount she threw up. She had just eaten, but still only threw up mucus -- none of the cereal or rice and noodles she had eaten, just mucus immediately after she ate in the middle of the night. She didn’t want a bottle, which is unusual. She loves them at night because she doesn’t have to open her eyes. She was crying and coughing so hard I felt sad but I've always wanted her to spit that damn mucus out. I even tried timing it and fingering it out when she got that distinctive, good, hacking cough sound going but she swallows it fast. I can’t even see what it is with her tongue. The only thing I can think that could have also helped that I forgot to mention was I gave her an inhaler of proair hfr albuterol sulfate earlier in the night to just free the mucus (they say four times a day, but I don’t just so she doesn’t become dependent on it). I guess just when I think about it, I do it. That all could have combined with her not wanting to be awake and having a snotty cry. But she literally hasn’t coughed.

By anon299598 — On Oct 25, 2012

Can anyone help? I have read all the posts and nothing I can find relates to me. I had a really bad cold and after the symptoms of the cold passed, I have had a persistent, dry cough followed by vomiting clear fluid. It happens at any time, sometimes up to six times a day.

By anon283271 — On Aug 03, 2012

I have copd and a very bad nasal drip causing me to have excessive mucus in my throat and today I am throwing up bile. Should I go to the emergency?

By anon282962 — On Aug 01, 2012

There is a condition called MALT. It stands for Mucosally Associated Lymphatic Tissue. Patches of tissue in the esophagus and stomach can become so irritated by repetitive exposures to endocrine system disruptive chemicals, from consumer products and environmental toxins, that they will dramatically react by excessively producing this thick "protective" mucosa.

In many cases you can eliminate the reaction by removing all toxins from your diet and environment. Some fragrances are major triggers, as are excitotoxins like MSG and aspartic acid, found in "flavors," seasoning mixes and meat tenderizers. Excito-toxins are also found in "broth" components of pet food. Stress can make the reaction worse.

By yumdelish — On May 07, 2011

My dog has recently started vomiting mucus and the vet says he probably has indigestion from bolting his food. We recently got a puppy and there's a bit of jealousy going on there I think.

As we have a big yard it would have been easy to miss what was happening, so I've learned to keep a close eye on what he's up to after eating.

Having read this article I realize there are many other potential causes for dog vomiting. I would hate for him to be throwing up because he has a cold or chest infection and I didn't catch on.

By Penzance356 — On May 07, 2011

My friend's mother got pneumonia last year and was quite sick for a few weeks. Then one day she started throwing up green mucus and recovered pretty much instantly!

I'm happy for her of course, but a little tired of hearing the story of the miracle mucus. I would never have thought of this as a positive thing to be doing.

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