Nausea 101: Causes, treatment & prevention

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Many of us are familiar with its symptoms: a sickening feeling in the pit of our stomach, a discomfort that makes you “turn green”, even a sourness that you can feel rising up your throat.

That feeling is nausea. Nausea is a common and usually benign condition that affects most people temporarily. We will go over common causes of nausea, what might trigger nausea and how we can prevent it.

What is nausea?

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Nausea is the feeling you get when you feel like you’re about to vomit. This occurs when certain areas in the brain are triggered by different stimuli. Information from different parts of the nervous system is relayed to the brain, which causes different parts of the brain and digestive system to respond and generate the feeling known as nausea.

Nausea is thought to serve as a protective mechanism to prevent one from eating foods that are potentially toxic, but it can also be triggered by other stimuli like chemotherapy or motion sickness.

Nausea vs vomiting

Compared to nausea, vomiting refers to the physical act of throwing up one’s stomach contents through your throat.

Nausea is not always accompanied by vomiting. Likewise, vomiting is not always preceded by nausea. While vomiting can be voluntary, nausea is involuntary. Nausea tends to last longer and be described as feeling more unpleasant than vomiting.

Causes of nausea

There are many different causes of nausea. Some of the most common ones include:


Cancer treatments like chemotherapy can trigger the vomiting reflex. Some anti-cancer medicines are also more likely to trigger nausea. You are more likely to get nausea from cancer treatment if you are prone to having nausea from other causes, like sea sickness or vomiting easily when you are sick.

Drinking too much alcohol

Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of a hangover, which happens when you have had too much alcohol to drink at one time.

Emotional stress

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Intense anxiety or fear can cause your stomach to feel uncomfortable and make you feel nauseous until the feelings subside. During stressful life events, nausea caused by stress can recur for weeks or even months.

Food poisoning

Nausea is a response to having ingested food that is not safe for consumption, often followed by vomiting which is meant to remove the contaminated food from the body.


Nausea is a symptom that often accompanies migraines, along with vomiting, throbbing in the head and sensitivity to bright lights.

Infections in the stomach

Viral gastroenteritis, commonly known as “stomach flu”, frequently causes nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms of stomach flu include diarrhoea, muscle aches and fever.

Inner ear infections and disorders

Imbalances in the fluid within the inner ear can cause nausea and dizziness, also known as vertigo. Vertigo tends to occur when you are getting up from a seated or lying position.


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“Morning sickness” is a common symptom in early stages of pregnancy. In most cases it lasts from the 9th to 14th weeks of pregnancy, but in some women it can last for months or for the entire duration of their pregnancy.


The rocking motion one experiences inside a car or a boat in motion is a common cause of nausea.

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Nausea triggers

Controlling nausea involves avoiding the stimuli that will trigger it. Common nausea triggers include:

Being in a moving vehicle

Driving over rough terrain or choppy water is likely to cause nausea to start earlier and feel more intense. If you are prone to motion sickness, try to sit near the front of the car as you will be less likely to feel the movement of the vehicle than if you were to sit in the back.

Having a stressful time

Being in a situation that makes you feel scared or gives you a lot of pressure can lead to the onset of stress-related nausea. Resolving the stressful situation should soon lead to relief from nausea.

Triggering smells

Strong odours can trigger nausea more easily. Foul odours like the smell of faeces or of garbage are commonly understood to trigger nausea.

The smell and taste of strong-smelling foods like durian, cheese and fermented foods can also make some people feel sick to their stomach. Try to avoid being in places where you will be exposed to smells that make you nauseous.

How to stop nausea

There are some ways that you can stop a nausea attack

Go to a ventilated area

Nausea can be heightened in small, cramped areas that also makes it difficult to escape from nauseating smells. Stepping outside, switching on a fan or opening the windows can bring in fresh air that can help to ease some of your nausea.

Find ways to remove or reduce stress

Stress is a common cause of nausea. Relaxation techniques can help to reduce the feeling of stress and the nausea that accompanies it. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, and meditation are all methods that you can use to release tension and to relieve stress.

Nausea home remedies

You can make your nausea less severe with some simple foods that you can easily find in the pantry or the supermarket. Here are some home remedies for nausea that you can try:

Cold drinks

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Sipping on cold and carbonated drinks when you’re nauseous can help to relieve symptoms. However, if drinking cold and carbonated beverages makes you uncomfortable you can wait until they reach room temperature or when the carbonated beverage has gone flat (lost its fizziness).


Ginger has been used for years as a traditional remedy against nausea. Eating ginger biscuits or drinking ginger tea can help you to feel less nauseous. A bag of crystallised ginger is not just a tasty snack, but also a great way to stave off motion sickness on long car rides.


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Sipping a cup of hot peppermint tea is an effective way of relieving nausea. Peppermint is known for its calming and soothing effects that can also help to relieve stomach cramps.

Sour foods

Lemonade, sour candy, pickles, and other sour-tasting food can help to relieve nausea and get rid of bad tastes in your mouth.

Your doctor might prescribe you anti-nausea medications if you are struggling with recurring nausea. These medications would have to be taken on a regular schedule to control nausea in the long term. Sometimes you will also get medicines to stop nausea as well as medicines meant to prevent nausea.

If you are taking medication to stop an incoming wave of nausea, you may have to wait between 20 to 60 minutes for the medications to work after you ingest them.  Even if you want to take medication to control more frequent bursts of nausea, you should not use more medication in a day than your doctor tells you to take.

When to see a doctor about nausea

You will need to see a doctor for your nausea if:

  • You have had waves of nausea or vomiting for more than a month.
  • You have severe waves of nausea during pregnancy and need a doctor to help you manage your condition.
  • You have other symptoms which includes: headache, chills, blurred vision, severe pain in stomach or chest and unexpected weight loss.

How to prevent nausea

Nausea can be managed at home with a few lifestyle changes. While these steps can be generally useful to people with recurring nausea, some of the tips below are more applicable to different nausea triggers. Here are some measures you can take to prevent nausea at home:

Avoid fried and oily foods

Fried, oily and rich foods are more likely to trigger nausea by causing stomach juices to flow to the oesophagus (throat). Avoiding foods like deep-fried chicken, pizzas, doughnuts, and burgers can help you to control your nausea in the long term.

Do not lie down soon after eating

Lying down shortly after a meal can cause stomach juices to travel from the stomach to the oesophagus more easily. Taking a walk after eating can help to improve blood circulation and prevents waves of nausea.

Eat plain foods

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Strong-smelling foods are likely to trigger nausea, so having plain and bland foods can help to prevent any discomfort. Following a BRAT diet of bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast is one of the most effective ways of controlling nausea as it minimises the chance that nausea is triggered by your food. Each of these foods is low in fibre, which eases the pressure on your digestive system.

Keep yourself relaxed

As stress is a common cause of nausea, finding ways to reduce stress throughout your daily life can be helpful to preventing stress. Remember to give yourself breaks occasionally to prevent responsibilities in your life from overwhelming you. Adding exercise or meditation to your daily routine can help you to keep calm throughout the day.

Stay hydrated

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Sipping fluids throughout the day can help to keep nausea at bay. 6 to 8 glasses of water is the recommended amount to drink each day.

Do not only drink when you are thirsty but try to drink fluids at regular intervals so that you can be constantly hydrated. Try to drink separately from when you eat, at least half an hour apart, to avoid feeling bloated and wanting to vomit.

Stop taking substances that can trigger nausea

Certain substances like cancer medications can become nausea triggers. If you know that you are prone to nausea and what your triggers are, try your best to avoid them. If you get nauseous from hangovers, limit your alcohol consumption.

Please discuss the side-effects of your medication with your healthcare provider on switching to alternative medications or stopping your medication.

This article was first published in Homage.