Throwing Up White Foam: Symptoms, Treatment, and Causes
Vomiting in itself is not an illness. It is the body's way of eliminating harmful substances that have been ingested, or it can be a reaction to something irritating the stomach. In most cases, throwing up white foam is not serious.
There are several possible causes for throwing up white foam. The most common one occurs when too much vomiting leads to an empty stomach. When excessive vomiting occurs, the body responds by throwing up bile—a fluid produced by the liver to aid digestion—which mixes up with stomach acids, thereby creating a foam. Also, swallowed saliva can combine with the acids of an empty stomach to form foam.
Vomiting foam can also occur when excessive alcohol consumption irritates the stomach lining. This activates the brain's chemoreceptor trigger zone and creates an urge to vomit. Continuous vomiting empties the stomach's contents and eventually leads to expelling stomach acids or bile.
Certain medications, such as morphine and digitalis, can also trigger the brain's vomiting center.
Certain foods may also be involved. Consuming a lot of ice cream with a carbonated drink on an empty stomach, for example, could be a cause.
However, if vomiting bile or throwing up white foam is accompanied by other symptoms, such as abdominal pain or skin discoloration, then it may be indicative of an underlying health condition. It can be a symptom of a disorder of the digestive system, pancreas, or liver; or it could be a symptom of a fungal or bacterial infection. Also, vomiting foam when you should be vomiting food should be a cause for concern.
When vomiting excessively, the most immediate and dangerous complication is dehydration. However, drinking water or fluid immediately after vomiting will not help; you will likely throw it up, as well. Wait a few minutes before taking small sips of water; and then gradually increase it.
Helicobacter Pylori Infection
H. pylori infection can be an underlying condition of throwing up white foam. These are spiral-shaped bacteria that normally grow in the digestive tract. Though they are present in almost all living things, they have a tendency to irritate the stomach lining due to an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut. While these infections are usually harmless, they can lead to ulcers in the small intestines and stomach. Infections can also cause chronic inflammation in the gut, called gastritis.
Until now, it is unknown how exactly H. pylori infection spreads since the bacteria usually coexist with humans. Generally, bacteria spread from feces to mouth, which happens when eating in unsanitary places, or when a person does not thoroughly wash his/her hands after using the toilet.
Since the exact source of the infection is still unknown, recommendations for prevention are vague and general. These include thoroughly washing hands, eating from clean establishments, making sure food is properly prepared, and drinking from a clean and safe source.
Another possible cause of vomiting foam is a Candida infection. This is a common type of yeast or fungal infection found in the mouth, vagina, and intestinal tract. It may also affect the skin and inner mucous membranes. However, these infections are rarely serious if the immune system is functioning properly. On the other hand, a weak immune system cannot stop Candida from spreading to other areas of the body. It becomes dangerous when it has spread in the bloodstream to the membranes of the brain and heart.
Normally, Candida helps with digestion and nutrient absorption. It becomes harmful when it overproduces and begins to override the immune system. If left unchecked, it can break down the lining of the intestines and then spread into the blood, eventually reaching the heart and brain.
Candida can be transmitted at birth from mother to child, or at hospitals from healthcare workers to immunocompromised patients. Since a weakened immune system can facilitate the overgrowth of the fungus, prevention can include proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Hiatal hernia, another possible cause of vomiting foam, occurs when part of the stomach pushes upward into the chest through the diaphragm. The diaphragm separates the abdomen from the chest. Though it's normal for the diaphragm to have a small opening that acts as support for the lower part of the esophagus, it is not normal when the stomach can push through it.
Hiatal hernia allows the stomach's content to easily move up into the esophagus. That is why it is related to acid reflux and GERD. In most cases, small hiatal hernias usually do not cause problems. People with this condition may never even know they have it unless it is diagnosed by a doctor. However, a large hiatal hernia can be more troublesome since it constantly allows food and stomach acid to pass through the esophagus, which can damage it due to the acidity.
This condition occurs more frequently in people over 50, although some are born with it. Most of the time, the exact cause of acquired hiatal hernia is unknown. Sometimes it is due to an injury that has weakened the muscle tissue of the diaphragm, allowing the stomach to push through. Most cases do not require treatment, but large hiatal hernias may require medication to relieve symptoms, and extremely large ones may require surgery.
Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are two different conditions that are closely related.
Acid reflux happens when the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. It is also called gastroesophageal reflux. As the stomach acid passes through the esophagus, a burning sensation is felt around the chest. This is called heartburn. It is also accompanied by a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
Acid reflux can progress to GERD, a chronic and a more severe form of reflux. GERD is a digestive disorder, whereas acid reflux is more of a symptom. It is characterized by frequent occurrences of the same symptoms as acid reflux.
These conditions can be caused by hiatal hernia and unhealthy habits such as eating large meals, eating close to bedtime, immediately lying down after a meal, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, etc. Reflux is also common among pregnant women and obese people.
Typically, acid reflux and GERD can be treated with self-care measures. However, if it is caused by a large hiatal hernia, it may require surgery.
Conditions That Can Lead to Vomiting White Foam
Signs and Symptoms
Bacterial infection (H. Pylori)
Some infected individuals do not have symptoms; some have occasional episodes of:
Excessive belching and bloating,
Nausea accompanied by abdominal discomfort or pain,
Dark or tarry stools (bloody stools),
Fungal infection (Candida)
White coat on the tongue,
Decreased sex drive,
Excessive bloating and flatulence,
Weakened immune system,
Majority of small hiatal hernias have no symptoms. However, larges ones cause these:
Excessive belching and bloating,
Abdominal or chest pain
Vomiting blood and tarry stools
Burning pain that moves up from the stomach to the chest,
regurgitation of stomach acid to the throat,
stomach pain or discomfort,
burping and bloating constantly after eating,
upper abdominal pain,
bitter taste in the mouth,
wheezing or asthma-like symptoms.
How to Deal With Throwing Up White Foam
While vomiting foam may be normal, consistently doing so is not. Treatment may very well be necessary. Excessive vomiting is a symptom of an underlying disease. If you take an antiemetic medication against nausea and vomiting, you may be effectively shutting down the body's warning system.
The best treatment is to deal with the root cause. If your condition is due to a bacterial or fungal infection, taking antibiotics or the recommended medication is the cure. However, if it is due to chronic diseases, like GERD or acid reflux, the best treatment is a change in lifestyle.
Follow these tips to help you deal with chronic vomiting or reflux:
- Stick to a healthy diet: Reflux or other digestive disorders are caused by the foods you eat and how you eat them. The best treatment is to restore the natural balance and proper function of the GI tract through good eating habits. These include chewing food slowly, cutting back on fatty foods, avoiding highly acidic foods, not prolonging hunger, and eating smaller portions. Also, choose whole foods over processed foods and add probiotics in your diet. Fermented foods are a good source of probiotics. If you don't eat them, take supplements instead.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A healthy lifestyle includes doing light exercises 2 hours after eating, then waiting for 2-3 hours before sleeping; staying upright for 45 minutes after eating; and avoiding alcohol and cigarettes. Overweight individuals have a higher risk of vomiting bile. It is best to lose those extra pounds.
- Wear comfortable clothes: Tight clothes, especially jeans, can compress the internal organs. This can cause intestinal blockage that can result to vomiting bile. You can opt for clothes with elastic waistbands, instead.
- Use natural home remedies: These include: a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with eight ounces of water can neutralize stomach acid; raw almonds can help reduce acid reflux and balance pH levels; one tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar in a tall glass of water can improve the acidity level of the stomach; half a cup of aloe vera juice can significantly reduce inflammation and ease symptoms of acid reflux; and a cup of chamomile tea can help soothe stomach inflammation.
Consult Your Doctor
Always consult your doctor to help pinpoint the cause of excessive vomiting and related symptoms.
Sources & More Information
"Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." WebMD. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
"What Is Acid Reflux Disease?" WebMD. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. "Hiatal hernia." Feb. 3, 2015. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
- "Candida Albicans." Wikipedia. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
- Santacroce, Luigi, MD. "Helicobacter Pylori Infection." March 15, 2016. Medscape. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.