Vomiting mucus is most often caused by swallowing thick nasal mucus, which irritates the stomach. Forceful coughing because of mucus may also trigger the gag reflex. To treat the vomiting, the condition that's causing the excess mucus must be dealt with too. Depending on the cause, antibiotics or antihistamines may be used to treat the underlying problem, while medications to thin out the secretions, saline flushes to clear the nose, and drinking water or tea to soothe the throat may help as well. It's also important for the sufferer to stay well hydrated, which can both thin out the mucus and replace water lost from vomiting.
The Role of Mucus
A healthy body produces mucus constantly, from glands in the nose, throat, stomach, and intestines. This substance works to trap and destroy bacteria, viruses, and other materials before they can affect the body. Normally, mucus mixes with saliva, which makes it thinner, so that it can be swallowed easily and without being noticed.
When a foreign material enters the nose, however, it can trigger the glands to produce more and more mucus to get rid of it. This excess may quickly overwhelm the body's ability to get rid of it easily, resulting in a stuffy, runny nose and post nasal drip, a condition where mucus collects in the back of the throat. Swallowing the thick secretions can often irritate the stomach, which tries to force it out through vomiting.
Upper respiratory tract infections, like colds and the flu, often cause a runny nose, post nasal drip, or both. Allergies can trigger this reaction in some people too; the sneezing and sniffling of hay fever in the spring and summer is the body's attempt to get rid of the irritating pollen, and it can cause allergic post nasal drip as well. Excess mucus can also occur with a sinus infection, a condition where the tissue in the sinuses becomes infected and swells.
In some cases, the body’s mucus production can be normal but problems with swallowing can lead it to build up in the throat, possibly leading to vomiting. The most common cause for such problems is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when acid is released from the stomach and makes its way up to the throat. Symptoms include heartburn, coughing, frequent throat clearing, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. Swallowing problems can also be caused by age or a blockage in the throat.
Upper respiratory tract and sinus infections can be caused by bacteria or viruses. If the infection is bacterial, antibiotics are the standard treatment. Once the infection is under control, the post nasal drip should be relieved, and vomiting mucus should no longer be a problem. If the infection is viral rather than bacterial, antibiotics should not be prescribed because they won't do any good. Antiviral medications may be ordered for some patients, but it's more likely that a medical professional will recommend waiting out the illness and treat only the symptoms until the virus is gone.
Antihistamines are often used to treat the excess mucus production caused by allergies. This medication blocks the receptors in the body that react to the allergen. They can also help reduce itching and sneezing, and so are sometimes added to cold medications. There is debate among medical professionals about whether or not antihistamines do anything to treat the symptoms of a cold or other upper respiratory virus, but they may offer some relief to some adult patients. Some antihistamines also have properties that can prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.
Corticosteroids are very effective at relieving the inflammation caused by allergies and suppressing the immune system's response, but they usually require a prescription. These drugs are typically only used in the short term to treat acute symptoms, since they do have long-term side effects that are much more serious than a stuffy nose or vomiting mucus.
Treating the Symptoms
Many people with colds take medications that treat the symptoms of the illness, since there is no cure. Decongestants, like pseudoephedrine, shrink the blood vessels in the nose, which reduces swelling and mucus production. Once nasal secretions are dried up, they can't drip down the back of the throat into the digestive system. Decongestants are also often used to treat allergies.
The symptoms of post nasal drip are often alleviated by thinning out the mucus in the body. Over-the-counter medications to thin mucus are sometimes helpful, but drinking lots of tea or water and using a humidifier to add moisture to the air may also be effective. Sometimes, a hot shower can open up the nasal passages. Many people find relief using saline nasal sprays or a neti pot to flush out some of the excess mucus.
In addition, many people with nasal congestion find that it's helpful to sleep with the head slightly elevated on a few stacked pillows to ensure the mucus continues to drain through the night and doesn't build up, leading to vomiting. If the post nasal drip is caused by allergies, dusting, vacuuming, and washing bedding frequently can reduce irritants.
Some people swear by spicy foods, which can act as an expectorant, thinning secretions and helping the body to expel them. Patients who are already suffering from stomach irritation, however, may not want to risk making the problem worse. Spicy food may also worsen heartburn for some people, which can lead to more mucus in the throat.
Treating the Vomiting
Persistent vomiting can be dangerous and lead to dehydration, so fluids and electrolytes need to be replaced. This is especially important for people who are very young, very old, and who are pregnant. These groups are especially prone to the risks of dehydration and prompt treatment may prevent complications.
Although typically the result of allergies and colds, vomiting mucus should be evaluated to rule out other, more serious causes. Anyone who experiences repeated episodes of vomiting, with or without mucus production, should contact a medical professional. If the mucus from post nasal drip is bad smelling or contains blood, it is especially important for the person to seek medical attention. Other indications of a serious problem include wheezing, a fever, or symptoms that persist longer than ten days.
Treating the Cough
Mucus that collects in the throat can also cause coughing, which may bring up the mucus. Violent fits of coughing can cause vomiting. When patients do cough up mucus — what's known as a productive cough — they should spit it out rather than swallowing it. Many people find relief from drinking water and other liquids to help thin out the secretions, and honey and ginger may help as well. Gargling with salt water might break up mucus that's collected in the throat, helping to clear it out.
What Are the Causes of Vomiting Mucus?
There are a number of things that can cause you to have mucus in your vomit, but they are not always serious problems. In fact, mucus in your stomach is natural. It produces mucus to create a barrier between your stomach's walls and the acid and enzymes required to complete digestion. If you vomit, some of that mucus may appear.
Coughing is our body's response to having too much mucus in the lungs. If you aren't feeling well, you may find that you cough so hard that it causes you to vomit. In this type of situation, it's common to see mucus in the vomit. Coughing like this happens for several reasons.
- Postnasal Drip
- Whooping Couch (in Children)
While intense coughing that causes you to vomit mucus usually isn't anything to worry about, you should seek medical treatment if you have other symptoms that accompany the coughing and vomiting. Those symptoms include coughing up blood, having difficulty breathing, breathing very quickly, being dehydrated, or turning blue in the face, lips, or tongue.
If you are experiencing postnasal drip, which is that feeling as if you need to clear your throat, you are more likely to have mucus in your vomit. This is because you often swallow the mucus from your nose and throat without realizing you have. If you're producing more mucus and swallowing it, you may end up vomiting mucus. Postnasal drip occurs for a wide variety of reasons.
- Bacterial Infections
- Cold Temperatures
- Dry Air
- Gastroesophageal Reflux
- Having a Deviated Septum
- Sinus Infections
- Spicy Foods
- Viral Infections
- Weather Changes
Pregnancy can also cause postnasal drip. When mixed with morning sickness, vomiting mucus is very common and is typically nothing to worry about. This is because the hormones that occur during pregnancy dry out your nose's lining, which leads to inflammation and feeling as if you have a cold. If your morning sickness is severe, ask your obstetrician whether he or she can prescribe an anti-nausea medication for you.
Vomiting Clear Liquid
Sometimes, your body will cause you to vomit clear liquid, mucus, and/or foam together. This often occurs if you've been vomiting for a long time and no longer have anything in the stomach or if you've recently had a lot of water at one time. Drinking too much water is just as bad for your body as not drinking enough, so be sure to pace yourself on your water goals throughout the day. Typically, vomiting clear liquid with mucus or foam is not a problem. However, if you have any of the following symptoms alongside the vomiting, it is a good idea to seek medical care.
- Blood in the Vomit
- Chest Pain
- Difficulty Breathing
- High Fever
- Prolonged Vomiting
- Severe Stomach Pain
When To See a Doctor for Coughing
If you are frequently coughing until you vomit, there could be an underlying condition that requires you to see your doctor. After you make an appointment with your primary care provider, he or she may first refer you to an allergist to rule out any allergies that are making you sick. If allergies aren't the problem, your doctor will likely ask you whether you've had other symptoms. Consider whether you ever feel feverish, have heartburn, or feel muscles aching during the times when you are also having problems with coughing and vomiting. After talking about your symptoms, your doctor may ask for one or more diagnostics tests.
- CT Scan – A CT scan can look for signs of infection in your lungs or sinus cavities that may be causing you to cough or vomit.
- Lung Function Test – If your doctor asks for a lung function test, he or she is determining how well you are breathing to see if asthma could be contributing to your symptoms.
- Scope Tests – Tests like the bronchoscope or rhinoscope use tiny cameras and lights to look into your air passages, lungs, and nasal passages to see if there are any problems.
- X-Rays – Your doctor may ask that you have chest and sinus x-rays to look for signs of prolonged sinus infections or pneumonia.
Treatment for Coughing and Vomiting Mucus
If you consistently cough so hard that you vomit mucus, your doctor will prescribe a treatment based on his or her findings during the diagnostic testing. If the problem is related to postnasal drip, you may be prescribed decongestants, glucocorticoids, or antihistamines. Other treatments include inhalers, cough suppressants, or acid blockers. If the cough is related to an infection, you may need to take a course of antibiotics. Finally, you can help to prevent the cough yourself by keeping the air in your home at the right humidity levels, quitting smoking, and ensuring you stay hydrated.