Sometimes, a cough is so severe that it may cause you to vomit. This may be an indication of an underlying illness or allergy, and it can be treated in a number of ways.
Why do we cough?
Coughing is the body’s way of trying to rid the lungs of mucus, foreign matter, and microbes that can cause infection and illness. You might develop a cough from irritants in the environment that you’re sensitive to. This could be because of an allergic reaction, a virus, or bacterial infection.
Some illnesses and conditions can cause both adults and children to cough so intensely that they vomit.
Several conditions can cause severe bouts of coughing in adults. These may be the result of an acute, short-term illness or allergy. They may also be chronic and last for many weeks, months, or even years.
Causes of coughing severe enough to induce vomiting include:
- Cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking causes smoker’s cough. It can be wet or dry, and may induce vomiting, and other
severe health issuessuch as emphysema.
- Postnasal drip. Postnasal drip is when mucus that’s produced drips down the throat, triggering coughing bouts that can cause vomiting.
- Asthma. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, and excessive production of mucus. These symptoms can also cause vomiting.
- Cough variant asthma. Coughing is the only symptom of cough variant asthma. It produces a dry, persistent cough that can be severe enough to induce vomiting.
- Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux and GERD can both cause irritation in the lower esophagus. This can trigger coughing and a sore throat, among other symptoms.
- Acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis causes a cough that may produce large amounts of mucus, which can create gagging and vomiting. A dry, wheezing cough that’s intense enough to trigger vomiting may continue to linger for weeks after the infection has dissipated.
- Pneumonia. Pneumonia can produce extreme bouts of coughing and vomiting as a result of mucus being expelled from the lungs or from a severe, postnasal drip.
- Some blood pressure medications. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors is a blood pressure medication that sometimes causes severe, chronic coughing. ACE inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.
Some conditions that cause coughing-related vomiting in adults can have the same effect in children. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, cough variant asthma, postnasal drip, and acid reflux.
Other conditions include:
- Pertussis (whooping cough). This is a respiratory tract infection. It causes intense and rapid coughs that typically drain the lungs of air, causing the person to gasp in oxygen. This causes a whooping sound. Vomiting is a common reaction to these symptoms.
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV causes inflammation of the lungs and breathing passages. It’s a leading cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in babies.
Vomiting induced by coughing is not by itself a medical emergency. If it’s accompanied by these other symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately:
- coughing up blood
- trouble breathing or rapid breathing
- lips, face, or tongue turns blue or dusky-colored
- dehydration symptoms
A doctor will want to rule out seasonal allergies and other potential allergens as a cause. They will ask about other symptoms you may have, such as heartburn, fever, and muscle aches to determine if you might have acid reflux, GERD, a common cold, or the flu.
Several tests may be used to diagnose this condition in adults and children. They include:
- chest X-ray: to look for signs of pneumonia
- sinus X-ray: to look for sinus infection
- CT scan: to look for areas of infection in the lungs or sinus cavities
- lung function test: to give the doctor information about your ability to intake air to diagnose asthma
- spirometry test: to gather information about air intake ability and asthma
- scope tests: require a bronchoscope, which has a small camera and a light to look at your lungs and air passages, or a similar type of tube called a rhinoscope can be used to look at the nasal passages
The underlying conditions for your symptoms need to be treated in order for your coughing and vomiting to resolve (dissipate). Some medications used to treat coughs include:
- decongestants: for allergies and postnasal drip
- glucocorticoids: for asthma, allergies, or postnasal drip
- bronchodilator or inhaler: for asthma
- antihistamines: for allergies and postnasal drip
- cough suppressants: for coughs with a cause that cannot be specified
- antibiotics: for bacterial infection, including pertussis
- acid blockers: for acid reflux and GERD
Most conditions benefit from bed rest and drinking lots of fluids. If symptoms get worse or do not improve within a few days, ask your doctor about the next steps.
Most conditions that cause this symptom are acute and short-lived. Once the underlying cause has been addressed, your coughing and vomiting will go away.
Some conditions that cause this symptom are long-lasting and require a doctor’s care and ongoing medication.
In many cases, your symptoms will get better if you stick to the treatment plan your doctor creates for you.
Not smoking cigarettes is one of the best ways to safeguard your health. If you smoke, consider talking with your doctor about a smoking-cessation regimen as a way of helping prevent chronic coughing.
Other ways you can prevent this symptom is by keeping your environment free of allergens, dust, and chemical irritants. An air purifier may help you do this.
Washing your hands often and avoiding individuals who are sick can help you avoid many germs (disease-causing agents) that cause the common cold, flu, and other illnesses that have coughing and vomiting as symptoms.
Because there are many different ailments that may lead to a cough, there are many different ways to treat it. Some people prefer home remedies instead of an over-the-counter (OTC) treatment.
Here are a few known cough remedies that you may be able to find in your own home.
For thousands of years, people have used ginger to help manage coughs, fever, sore throats, and asthma.
Ginger has also demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, though more research involving humans is needed to further understand these benefits.
An easy way to treat your cough with ginger is by drinking a hot ginger tea, which may help reduce irritation in your throat.
Peppermint contains menthol, which has both
The Mentha species, which includes plants in the mint family, has a variety of health benefits, including antioxidant and antimicrobial potential.
You can use peppermint in the form of peppermint tea or through peppermint essential oil drops infused in a steam treatment.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils, and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
3. Honey tea
Honey can help reduce coughing and related symptoms like mucus in the throat.
You can mix half a teaspoon of honey with milk for children or consume it in the form of honey tea for adults. However, be sure to avoid feeding honey to children younger than 1 year.
It’s important to check with a doctor if your cough is severe or persists for several weeks.