What’s the Best Way to Treat Nausea?

By Korin Miller |

Here are the home remedies and OTC meds to try first, plus what to do if they don’t work.

cup of ginger tea

Few things can ruin your day quicker than feeling nauseous, especially when it’s unclear what brought it on.

“Nausea is one of those frustrating symptoms that can be tied to a wide range of problems, including motion sickness, vertigo, ear infections, gallstones, acid reflux, and viral infections,” says Kristine Arthur, M.D., an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. It may even be caused by a medication you’re taking, she adds.

Pinpointing the cause of your discomfort, if possible, can help you figure out how to best treat it. But some general guidelines apply: For starters, avoid heavy or spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol, Dr. Arthur says. These will only irritate your stomach and make your nausea worse. Instead, stick with bland foods like saltines and sip clear, cold liquids.

You should also consider ginger, which is one of the best-known home remedies for nausea. You can take it in a tea, as a lozenge, or via ginger-spiced foods. Peppermint aromatherapy, a fancy way to describe smelling peppermint oil, can also help reduce nausea.

OTC Medications That May Ease Your Quease

If natural remedies don’t work for you, there are a number of over-the-counter drugs that may soothe an upset stomach. However, the type that will work best for you ultimately depends on the cause of your nausea, Dr. Arthur says. For example:

  • If you have a stomach bug, it will probably just have to run its course, though Pepto-Bismol might be soothing.
  • For nausea due to motion sickness, Dramamine is worth a try.
  • If you have occasional heartburn with nausea, Tums, Mylanta, or Gaviscon might help.

If you have a medical condition or currently take prescription medications, other OTC drugs, or supplements, ask your doctor or pharmacist if an OTC drug is safe for you.

When to Get Medical Help Fast

Though usually not serious, nausea can sometimes be a sign of a medical emergency that requires immediate attention, such as:

Heart attack: Subtle signs like nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, back pain, or jaw pain are more common in older adults and women. Learn more here.

Heat stroke: Signs can include nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, dizziness, or a change in mood or behavior after prolonged exposure to hot temperatures. Learn more here.

If your nausea is accompanied by severe stomach pain or you’re unable to keep anything down for more than 24 hours, call your doctor. You may also need prompt care.

When to Follow Up with Your Doctor

Even if you don’t suspect anything serious and you’re not vomiting, it’s a good idea to consult a physician if your nausea has persisted for a few weeks so he or she can help get to the root of the problem.

Possible causes for nausea that won’t let up include:

A medication you’re taking: Nausea could be a side effect. Switching to another drug might be an option, or your doctor might advise you to take the drug with food or before bed.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Chronic acid reflux caused by GERD can make you feel queasy. A proton pump inhibitor (like Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid) may help.

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Gallstones: They may cause intense stomach pain along with nausea and vomiting. You might need surgery, but the first step is a discussion with your doctor.

Gastroparesis: A condition in which food moves through your digestive tract too slowly, it can cause nausea and vomiting, and also interfere with the absorption of nutrients. It’s sometimes associated with diabetes, and some people develop it after surgery.

Ear trouble: Even if your ear doesn’t hurt, an infection or other ear problem (like the buildup of tiny crystals that cause a type of vertigo) can make you feel nauseated.

Even if you already know what’s wrong, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. For instance, if you’re getting chemotherapy treatment for cancer, your doctor can prescribe medication to combat nausea.

He or she might also suggest alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, which research shows often helps chemo-related nausea and vomiting.

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