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.