How to Throw Up: 10 Steps & Ways to Vomit (& When It Is Safe)

October 2022

Vomiting is a natural reflex that the body uses to eliminate spoiled food or toxic substances in the stomach. The body will automatically stimulate the vomiting reflex when necessary. Vomiting should only be induced if indicated by a doctor or if you are experiencing very intense symptoms after eating that do not improve with other techniques. 

If you have ingested a poisonous substance and an irritating liquid, like clearing products, you should not attempt to vomit, as the liquid will have to reenter the throat, causing more damage. In these situations, you should proceed immediately to the hospital to start appropriate treatment. 

5 essential steps to vomit safely 

To vomit safely and to prevent discomfort or serious complications, you should: 

1. Wash your hands thoroughly

Washing you hands is very important to prevent the transmission of bacteria and other microorganisms to the throat, which can cause infections like tonsillitis. 

2. Kneel in front of the toilet

Kneeling in front of the toilet is one of the most comfortable and safest positions to vomit in. You should avoid putting too much pressure on the stomach, as it can cause more discomfort. 

3. Place a finger in your throat 

There is a point at the front of your throat that can be squeezed to stimulate the vomiting reflex. To reach it, you should place a finger in your mouth, and slightly press down on the area behind the tongue, where your throat starts. The desire to vomit will appear almost immediately, although some people will need to do this 2 to 3 times to be able to vomit, as the brain may try to block the signal the first few times.

4. Drink 1 cup of water

After vomiting, it is important to drink a cup of water to remove any excess stomach acid that remains on the stomach walls. This can reduce any stomach burning and inflammation from acid.

5. Wait 30 minutes before washing your teeth 

Although you may feel the desire to brush your teeth immediately after vomiting, it is best to just rinse and gargle with water. The teeth will be quite sensitive after coming in contact with stomach acid, and brushing your teeth may worsen this. Therefore, you should wait about 30 minutes after vomiting to brush your teeth.

5 safe ways to induce vomiting

Inducing vomiting with Ipecac or any of the below methods is not advised for the treatment of suspected chemical poisoning at home. However, if intense gastric symptoms, like intolerable nausea with cold sweats, emerge immediately after eating a meal, you can attempt relief by:

1. Using a finger

The gag reflex is an automatic contraction of the back of the throat that serves to protect foreign bodies or food that wasn’t intentionally from entering the stomach. This reflex can be triggered by poking the back of the throat or tongue, or the tonsil area with a finger, toothbrush or tongue scraper. The contraction often induces stomach content from rising back up into the mouth.

2. Intense gargling

Instead of touching or poking the back of your throat with a finger or other instrument to stimulate a gag reflux, it can also be triggered by gargling (with water, for example). Gargling should be intense enough to induce gagging and retching, which is a forceful contraction of the stomach, so that stomach content will flow back up.

3. Motion sickness

Motion sickness is a feeling of malaise that follows after the brain is overloaded with sensory information. That is, when your eyes see an image, your muscles feel they are going in the opposite direction and your ears sense a change in balance, the brain is not able to compute these movements, which often results in nausea and vomiting. You can induce motion sickness by spinning in a circle or computer chair, making sure to do so in a safe area. 

4. Mental imagery 

Some people may have a heightened sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli that may provoke vomiting. These stimuli can include auditory elements (e.g. hearing someone vomit), smells (like imagining the smell of vomit or other strong chemicals like bleach), and thinking about tasting of unappealing food. 

5. Sodium solutions

Although they are no longer recommended, salt-water mixtures are thought to upset the stomach, cause contraction and induce vomiting. However, sodium solutions are associated with a risk of hypernatremia, which is a salt toxicity that can be life-threatening when sodium levels in the blood are severely elevated. 

Possible risks of inducing vomiting 

One of the biggest risks of inducing vomiting is the possibility of causing a pneumonia. This happens because when you vomit, stomach content returns to the mouth, and when it flows back up, it can be aspirated into the lungs. If this occurs, the lungs will usually become inflamed and bacteria in the food can start to grow in the lungs, leading to pneumonia. 

Frequent vomiting can cause wounds in the esophagus and mouth, as these are lined with very sensitive tissue that are not made to be in direct contact with gastric acid. 

What can cause vomiting 

Although the desire to vomit is a common symptom, there are specific situations in which vomiting can be a sign of an abnormality. Some of these include: 

  • Serious abdominal problems, like appendicitis or bowel obstruction 
  • Problems in the digestive system, like food poisoning or ulcers 
  • Problems in the nervous system, like meningitis, hydrocephalus or tumors
  • Pregnancy, especially after the 6th week 
  • Use of medications, like digoxin, codeine and chemotherapy drugs  

There are many situations in which inducing vomiting is not associated with significant risks. However if you feel the desire to vomit frequently and it does not improve, or if you have other symptoms like blood in the vomit or a foul odor, you should proceed to the hospital for assessment..

When you should not induce vomiting 

You should never vomit to remove recently ingested food, just because you feel you ate too much. If you feel the desire to vomit for weight loss reasons, you may be experiencing bulimia. This is an eating disorder which is characterized by the desire to vomit out of fear of weight gain. 

In addition, if you have accidentally consumed a poisonous substance or cleaning product, you should not try to vomit, as you may increase the risk for esophageal burns. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in October 2022. Clinical review completed by Manuel Reis - Registered Nurse in October 2022.

References

  • CILI, S, Stopa, L.. Intrusive Mental Imagery in Psychological Disorders. Front Psychiatry. V.6, n.103. 2015
  • HEALTH - UNIVERSITY OF UTAH. Risks of Salt Poisoning. Available on: <https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2016/08/salt_poisoning.php>. Access in 14 Oct 2022
Show more references
  • Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Poison Treatment in the Home. American Academy of Pediatrics. Vol.112, n.5. 2003
  • BENSARD, D; Beauchamp, K. . Gag Reflux, Encyclopedia of Intensive Care Medicine. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, 2012. 961-963.
  • GOLDING, G.F.. Ch. 27: Motion Sickness, Handbook of Clinical Neurology. v.137. 2016. Pages 371-390.
Clinical review:
Manuel Reis
Registered Nurse
Manuel graduated in 2013 and is licensed to practice under the Ordem dos Enfermeiros de Portugal, with license #79026. He specializes in Advanced Clinical Phytotherapy.