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What Causes Clear Vomit?

Learn what’s causing you to throw up clear liquid.

If you’re throwing up, it usually means your body is trying to get rid of a toxin. But the color of your vomit tells you a lot about what’s going on.

Vomiting clear liquid and stomach bile means there is nothing in your stomach to regurgitate. This can happen because you’ve already thrown up all the food and fluid in your stomach, you’ve been drinking a lot of water, or you haven’t eaten in a long time.

Often, it is a sign of a stomach infection, caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite. Or it could be from food poisoning. Morning sickness during pregnancy is another reason someone may vomit clear liquid.

Clear vomit can be from cancer chemotherapy and other drugs that can stimulate the vomiting center of the brain. It’s also why migraine headaches, injury, and vertigo may cause vomiting.

Drinking too much alcohol, which your body views as a toxin, can trigger vomiting. Less commonly, clear vomit is due to an obstruction in the GI tract.

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1. Indigestion (dyspepsia)


  • Nausea
  • Stomach bloating
  • Dyspeptic symptoms
  • Bloating after meals
  • Vomiting

Indigestion—also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia—is a general term for discomfort in your upper abdomen. It’s caused by:

  • Eating too much or too quickly
  • Eating greasy or spicy foods
  • Consuming too much caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages
  • Smoking
  • Anxiety
  • Some medications like antibiotics and pain relievers

Indigestion is usually treated by eating smaller meals throughout the day, eating light, bland food, managing stress, and possibly changing medications. If it lasts longer than 2 weeks or doesn’t respond to treatment, contact your doctor. It could be a sign of a more serious condition.

Read more about indigestion.

2. Stomach viruses


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Often watery, non-bloody diarrhea
  • Often crampy abdominal pain
  • Moderate dehydration (dry mouth or skin; urinating less often)

There are many viruses that may cause vomiting. The exact cause is often not as important as managing symptoms and preventing dehydration.

The norovirus is a very contagious viral infection. If you've spent time around large groups of people who haven’t washed their hands enough—like in a daycare center or on a cruise ship—you're more likely to catch it. Symptoms usually come on quickly and last for a few days. It can become serious if you get severely dehydrated. 

The rotavirus is also highly contagious and spread through contaminated water or food, as well as contact with infected surfaces. The young (less than 5 years old) and elderly are at the greatest risk of dehydration as symptoms often last for several days. A rotavirus vaccine is given within the 1st year of life and decreases the severity of disease, but does not completely prevent it.

Treatment focuses on staying hydrated. As long as you can do that at home, you don't need to see a doctor. But if your symptoms last for more than 1 week, or if you become moderately to severely dehydrated, call your doctor or go to urgent care.

Read more about norovirus and rotavirus.

3. Viral infections


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Often watery, non-bloody diarrhea
  • Often crampy abdominal pain
  • Moderate dehydration (dry mouth or skin; urinating less often)

A range of viral infections, including the cold and flu and COVID-19, can also cause nausea and vomiting. The adenovirus can cause many different symptoms from those of the common cold to gastroenteritis (diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain). It is spread through the stool of an infected person such as with diaper changes.

The flu can also have many different symptoms ranging from fever and body aches to cough, sore throat, and stuffy nose, as well as vomiting and diarrhea, particularly in children. The flu vaccine can be given to anyone over the age of 6 months to prevent it.

COVID-19 can cause many symptoms including fever, chills, headache, body aches, fatigue, sore throat, cough, loss of taste or smell, and vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms usually start approx 2 to 14 days after exposure. Currently the COVID vaccine, which is being rolled out, has been approved for those over the age of 16.

Treatment focuses on staying hydrated. If you can do that at home, you don't need to see a doctor. But if your symptoms last for more than 1 to 2 weeks, or if you become moderately to severely dehydrated, call your doctor or go to urgent care.

Read more about the cold, flu, and COVID-19.

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4. Food poisoning

Pro Tip

A common misconception with vomiting is that we must stop it. Yes, vomiting is miserable and, yes, it can lead to dehydration. But depending on the cause, it may be your body’s way of getting rid of a toxin—whether from an infection or something you ingested, such as too much alcohol. —Dr. Chandra Manuelpillai


Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness or "stomach flu," is an infection of the digestive tract. It can be from food contaminated with bacteria (e.g., E. coli, salmonella, shigella), viruses, parasites, or other toxins. It can also happen when you eat food that’s prepared in an unclean kitchen, isn’t cooked thoroughly, or isn’t stored properly. The symptoms can start anywhere from 20 minutes to several days after eating the contaminated food and end quickly.

Most people recover on their own with rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers. If you become moderately to severely dehydrated, call your doctor or go to urgent care.

Read more about food poisoning.

5. Acute gastritis


  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Belly pain, usually in the upper abdomen
  • Feeling bloated, usually after eating

Gastritis is an umbrella term for when your stomach lining becomes inflamed. This can happen due to a bacterial infection, overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen), too much alcohol, or an autoimmune condition. Chronic gastritis can be a lifelong issue, but acute gastritis usually clears up within a few days to weeks.

Treatment requires a visit to your doctor. If it's due to a medication, they may switch your prescription. If it's an infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. And if it's an autoimmune reaction, you might need to see a specialist.

Read more about acute gastritis.

6. Cyclic vomiting syndrome


  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain (stomach ache)
  • Trouble sleeping

Cyclic vomiting syndrome is marked by severe vomiting that has no apparent cause. Episodes can last for hours or days. Often, you’ll have relatively symptom-free periods in between.

Treatment involves lifestyle changes to try to stop triggering the vomiting episodes. Medications like anti-nausea and migraine therapies can also help.

7. Morning sickness

Pro Tip

Depending on the cause, bland foods—like dry bread—may help with the symptoms. Particularly if it is caused by morning sickness. —Dr. Manuelpillai


  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pregnancy

Morning sickness is nausea and vomiting that happens during pregnancy, usually in the first trimester. It can happen at any time of day. But when it happens in the morning with an empty stomach, the vomit will be clear.

Treatment may include over-the-counter options such as ginger, vitamin B-6 supplements, and doxylamine (Unisom), as well as prescription anti-nausea medications such as ondansetron (Zofran), metoclopramide (Reglan) and/or phenergan.

Other options include not having an empty stomach and avoiding triggers. Some women find acupuncture, acupressure, or aromatherapy helpful. But it is important to always discuss any treatment options with your doctor first to make sure they are safe for you and your baby.

Other possible causes

A number of conditions and substances may also cause clear vomit, though these are either rare or clear vomit is not usually the most important symptom. They include migraines, chemotherapy, hepatitis A, drugs or alcohol, anesthesia (for surgery), acute pancreatitis, gallbladder disease, and reflux.

When to call the doctor

Call your primary care physician if you are:

  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Signs of mild-to-moderate dehydration (excessive thirst, dry mouth or tongue, muscle cramps, and/or dark urine)
  • Bloating
  • Symptoms lasting for more than 2 days
  • Flu-like symptoms that are getting worse

Should I go to the ER for clear vomit?

You should go to the ER for clear vomit with any of these:

  • Chest pain
  • Persistent bloody stools
  • Severe headache or stiff neck
  • Lethargy
  • A recent head injury
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Signs of moderate-to-severe dehydration (dizziness, confusion, and/or no urine output)
  • Being unable to hold down any liquid or solid food for 24 hours

Clear vomit treatments

Dr. Rx

Since vomiting is common in children, it is important to discuss proper home management. The younger the child, the higher risk of dehydration. And the more difficult it is to assess for concerning signs and symptoms. This is also true for the elderly. —Dr. Manuelpillai

At-home care

Most symptoms of clear vomiting go away on their own after 2 to 3 days. During this time:

  • Stay well-hydrated. Drink water and replace lost electrolytes by drinking sports drinks (e.g., Gatorade) and/or electrolyte supplements (e.g., Pedialyte).
  • Slowly reintroduce bland food once you can hold down clear fluids.
  • If soft, bland foods stay down, try small amounts of carbohydrates, such as crackers or bread.
  • Avoid fatty foods. They can make vomiting worse.

Over-the-counter medications and supplements

  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Kaopectate
  • Antihistamines, such as Dramamine
  • Ginger supplements like teas and chews. This is especially helpful if you have morning sickness.

Other treatment options

Prescription medications

  • Your doctor may prescribe anti-nausea and vomiting medications, such as ondansetron, metoclopramide, diclegis (approved for use in pregnancy), compazine, or phenergan.
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