Dry heaving, sometimes called retching, refers to vomit-like feelings without any substance. Dry heaving happens when you attempt to vomit. Your airway closes off while your diaphragm contracts. Sometimes nausea accompanies dry heaving. Dry heaving may lead to vomiting, but it doesn’t always.
Dry heaving is usually temporary and treatable if you find the cause. With lifestyle modifications, home remedies, and medications, you can help keep dry heaving at bay.
Causes of dry heaving
A combination of diaphragm contractions and a closed-off airway occurs during dry heaves. It creates vomiting-like sensations. Unlike during real vomiting, however, nothing comes up.
Certain conditions, behaviors, and other factors can lead to dry heaving.
Exercising at too high of an intensity can cause your diaphragm to contract. In turn, that can lead to dry heaving. Exercising on a full stomach can also cause dry heaving.
Avoid eating a large meal right before exercising. You should also slowly build your tolerance to activity instead of starting at a high intensity. Doing so can reduce your risk of exercise-induced dry heaves. If you start to dry heave or feel nauseous, take a break and slowly sip small amounts of water.
Consuming excess alcohol
Binge drinking or drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to dry heaving or vomiting. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume. Eating while you drink may also help avoid dry heaving. If you start to dry heave, stop consuming alcohol. Try slowly sipping water and nibbling on easy-to-digest foods, such as saltine crackers.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes symptoms of heartburn, also known as acid reflux. It can cause the regurgitation of partially digested foods and lead to discomfort while swallowing or breathing, among other symptoms. This condition may also cause dry heaving in some people.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to help manage symptoms of GERD. You can also try lifestyle changes, such as eating smaller meals or avoiding spicy or greasy foods.
Some medications for anxiety and depression may cause nausea and vomiting. If your doctor suspects that your current medication is causing you to dry heave, they may recommend switching to a different type or brand to offer relief. Do not change your medication without your doctor’s approval.
Other conditions that may lead to dry heaving are:
- severe liver or kidney problems
Treating these conditions should help reduce dry heaving. If you have one of these conditions and dry heaving, talk to your doctor. It’s important to let your doctor know about all of your symptoms, even if they don’t seem related.
Dry heaving and pregnancy
Dry heaving is also common during early pregnancy, where many women experience morning sickness. You might experience dry heaving combined with nausea. Despite the name, morning sickness can happen at any time of day. Morning sickness and its related symptoms tend to ease up during the second trimester.
Treatment focuses on ensuring you and your baby get enough nutrients through food. Treating dry heaving and nausea can also increase your quality of life. Some measures used to treat dry heaving in pregnancy include taking:
You can also try acupuncture or acustimulation, which is mild electrical stimulation on acupuncture points.
However, research shows that the effectiveness of treatment can vary. One study reviewed 41 different clinical trials involving 5,449 pregnant women. This data included many treatment options. The review found that the effectiveness of multiple treatments for nausea in pregnancy was inconsistent. While side effects weren’t noted, it’s still important to reach out to your doctor before taking any new medication or supplement, natural or not. Your doctor can help determine if it’s a good option for you.
Home remedies are often the first line of treatment. You may consider the following tips.
- Don’t lie down on a full stomach, which can make it easier for stomach acids to flow back up through the esophagus.
- Rest if you feel nauseous while exercising.
- Eat saltines, rice, toast, or other foods that are easy to digest if you feel nauseous.
- Have a banana in the morning. It’s also a good preworkout snack.
- Eat chicken soup or other broth-based foods.
- Avoid eating large meals. Eat small amounts every 2 to 3 hours instead.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Avoid items such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, or fatty or spicy foods. These foods may cause acid reflux.
- If vomiting occurs, stay hydrated. You can wait to eat until the nausea passes, however.
to see a doctor
If your dry heaving doesn’t improve after trying home remedies, it’s time to see a doctor. They can help determine the cause.
They may also prescribe antinausea medications. Some of these drugs are available over-the-counter (OTC). These drugs are called antiemetics and work by blocking certain substances in the body that play a role in nausea. Taking them may stop dry heaving, too. Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) is a motion sickness medication that may alleviate nausea that leads to dry heaving.
Always talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medication for dry heaving. Side effects of these drugs are minor, including dry mouth and constipation. However, the medication may worsen other conditions that you have, such as glaucoma and high blood pressure. These drugs also shouldn’t be taken by children younger than 12 years.
When to seek immediate medical attention
You should also see your doctor right away if you have:
- severe chest pain
- sharp abdominal pains
- dizziness or weakness
- an increased heart rate
- little to no urination
- blood in your urine
- bloody vomit or stools
- breathing difficulties
- severe muscle pain or weakness
These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition.
You may find that certain simple lifestyle changes can help prevent dry heaving. Try these tips:
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day, especially if you’re pregnant.
- Avoid working out on a full stomach.
- Drink more water.
- Reduce or eliminate your alcohol consumption.
- Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Manage your stress.
For most people, dry heaving is an acute condition, meaning it lasts for a short time and then goes away. It can be treated with home remedies or minor treatments. It’s important to see your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve. Ongoing dry heaving can indicate an underlying medical problem.