The three most common causes of vomiting mucus are colds, allergies, and acid reflux. In respiratory situations, the mucus is usually dripping down from the sinuses and nasal passageways into the throat. When there’s enough of it, this can cause gagging and ultimately vomiting. Children tend to be some of the most vulnerable to mucus-filled vomit in these cases since their gag reflexes often aren’t as developed as adults’ are. In the case of acid reflux, the mucus is usually flowing up from the stomach and digestive tract. While it can certainly be unsettling for people to see mucus in their vomit, it isn’t usually a cause for concern, and many experts actually say that it’s pretty common. In most cases it will go away on its own as soon as the root cause disappears.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.