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Vomiting After Head Injury: What It Means and How to Treat It

woman in hospital bed struggling with vomiting after brain injury

Is vomiting after head injury a dangerous sign? While dizziness and nausea are typical effects of head injury, vomiting can be a sign of a worsening condition. However, a single episode of vomiting without other symptoms is usually not a reason for serious concern.

This article will explore what causes vomiting after head injury and what it can mean for recovery. Helpful home remedies that can treat persistent nausea and vomiting will also be discussed.

Use the links below to jump directly to any section.

Causes of Vomiting After Head Injury

Vomiting is one of many effects that may occur after traumatic brain injury. Like all secondary effects, vomiting can range from mild, isolated episodes, to severe, persistent nausea and vomiting.

Vomiting after head injury most often occurs in children, although adults are also known to experience episodes of vomiting after head injury.

There are several possible causes of vomiting after head injury. These include:

  • Vestibular dysfunction. An injury to the cerebellum or inner ear can cause balance and dizziness problems, which can trigger vomiting in some people.
  • Migraines. Some head injuries cause severe headaches or migraines, which again can trigger vomiting.
  • Skull fracture. A skull fracture can also cause extreme pain, which may lead to vomiting.
  • Subdural Hematoma. A subdural hematoma is a dangerous collection of blood on the surface of the brain. One of the signs of a subdural hematoma is repeated vomiting.

Although vomiting can be a sign of a subdural hematoma, more than one symptom typically occurs. Other signs of a subdural hematoma may include:

  • Steadily worsening headache
  • One dilated pupil
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures

Therefore, if a person vomits after a head injury but does not display these other symptoms, they most likely do not have a subdural hematoma. However, it is still important to consult with a physician if vomiting after a head injury occurs.

Does Isolated Vomiting Indicate a Brain Injury?

While vomiting is a potential secondary effect of a head injury, it is unlikely that isolated vomiting is a sign of brain injury if no other symptoms are present. In fact, in a study of over 40,000 children with a mild, blunt head trauma, it was found that nearly 15% of children experienced vomiting. However, only 0.2% of children who experienced only vomiting after a mild head trauma could be diagnosed with a clinically important traumatic brain injury.

However, when other symptoms are present along with vomiting, there is an increased likelihood that a traumatic brain injury has occurred. Of these, the most common sign that a brain injury may have occurred is a skull fracture. Other symptoms that may be present along with vomiting that could indicate a traumatic brain injury occurred include:

  • Altered mental status
  • Headaches
  • Acting abnormally

Therefore, while vomiting on its own is not an indicator of serious injury, it may be a sign of something more serious if it is combined with other symptoms.

How Long Can Vomiting Last?

Vomiting can occur several days or weeks after a head injury, depending on how severe the injury was. However, the occurrence of vomiting should decrease in frequency as time passes.

If it does not decrease, call your doctor immediately.

Violent, persistent vomiting that occurs directly after a head injury is a more serious sign than one or two vomiting incidents separated by several hours. If an individual cannot stop vomiting following a head injury and cannot keep any food or liquids down, seek emergency care immediately.

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Treating Vomiting After Head Injury

Once a doctor has ruled out any serious conditions causing nausea and vomiting, there are a variety of home remedies that may be beneficial. While not all of these remedies will work for everyone, they are all simple, noninvasive and inexpensive, making them worth trying out.

1. Deep Breaths

Research has shown that taking deep, controlled breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces the biological response that triggers vomiting and nausea. Deep breathing can also calm anxiety, which in turn can reduce nausea.

To practice deep breathing, simply close your eyes and slowly inhale through your nose. Let the air completely fill your lungs, and let your lower abdomen expand as your diaphragm pushes downward to expand your lung capacity. It is ok to hold your breath before exhaling. A good rule is to breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. But, if you can increase the time this takes, that is even better. Repeat several times until you feel the nausea subside.

2. Acupressure

Many people find that acupressure helps reduce nausea and vomiting. Acupressure is based on the traditional Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture, which uses specific pressure points on the body to alleviate symptoms.

One effective pressure point for reducing vomiting is located on your inner wrist. To find the pressure point, follow these steps:

  • Hold one hand so that the fingers and palm are pointing upward.
  • Place the first three fingers of the opposite hand across the wrist.
  • Place the thumb just below these three fingers, feeling for two tendons. That is the pressure point.
  • Press the thumb on this point and move it in a circle for two minutes. Pressure should be firm but not so hard that it hurts.

Another pressure point that can help relieve nausea is the ear lobes. Rub both ear lobes in a circular direction for two minutes or until the nausea subsides. This point also may reduce anxiety.

These pressure points can be used multiple times throughout the day as needed to reduce nausea.

3. Fluids and Ginger Root

While it may be challenging to want to eat or drink, staying hydrated is crucial, especially when vomiting frequently. Sipping fluids slowly can help individuals stay hydrated without causing further nausea.

Some drinks that can increase hydration and calm the stomach include:

  • Mint tea
  • Lemonade
  • Ginger ale or ginger tea
  • Water

In addition to fluids, chewing on ginger root is an effective way to reduce nausea.

4. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can also reduce nausea and vomiting after head injury. To practice aromatherapy, try breathing over an open essential oil bottle or adding the oil to a diffuser.

One of the most effective essential oils to use for nausea is lavender since it offers many other benefits to brain injury survivors. Other oils that can reduce nausea include:

  • Lemon oil
  • Frankincense
  • Clove
  • Chamomile
  • Peppermint
  • Rose

5. Medications

Finally, there are medications that may reduce nausea and vomiting. Some common over-the-counter drugs that can help include Pepto-Bismol and Dramamine. If these are not effective, there are also stronger anti-nausea medications your doctor may prescribe, such as ondansetron or metoclopramide.

Understanding Vomiting After Head Injury

Vomiting is a relatively common effect of head injury. While isolated incidents of vomiting do not usually signal something serious, vomiting can be associated with skull fractures and subdural hematomas.

Therefore, the best course of action if someone is vomiting after a head injury is to have them seen by a physician. Doctors may perform various scans to determine if a serious injury has occurred.

Even if no serious brain damage is found, individuals may still experience nausea and vomiting for several days after a head injury. Using home remedies may decrease one’s symptoms and promote a faster recovery.

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