Anyone who has experienced prolonged nausea knows that awful doesn’t even begin to describe it. As with many other persistent conditions, the thing can start to take on a life of its own, dominating your thoughts and actions. Simple tasks like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and even brushing your teeth can seem insurmountable.
Over the past several years, I have worked with countless individuals struggling with nausea, including more severe cases involving chemotherapy patients as well as expectant mothers with hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme and debilitating nausea and vomiting beyond normal morning sickness). Below I’ve put together a list of tactics that have been helpful. Of course, no single to-do list will work for everyone; some strategies work famously for some and send others bolting for the bathroom. If you or one of your loved ones is struggling with nausea, I hope this list will give you some effective strategies to try. If you have any you’d like to add, please do so in the comments!
- If you are prescribed medications for nausea, take them as prescribed. While it might be tempting to skip your anti-nausea/anti-emetic when you’re feeling well, nausea is a lot like pain; once it gets out of control, it’s harder to rein in.
- Fluids are essential. When you’re nauseous, you are at double risk for dehydration due to poor intake and increased losses if you’re also vomiting. To add insult to injury, dehydration can also worsen feelings of nausea. Hydration has to be your top priority.
- Oftentimes, it can be easier to drink than eat. Make your fluids do double-duty by choosing caloric beverages. Juice, milk, chocolate milk, nutritional drinks, smoothies, sports drinks, soda, ginger ale, cocoa, cider–stock up on lots of options and keep track of your intake. Just think, if you shoot for 8 cups and each cup has at least 100 calories, that’s an extra 800 calories.
- Go for ‘wet’ foods. Not only do they provide fluid, but they usually require less chewing and don’t sap what little saliva you might have if you’ve been vomiting and are bordering on dehydrated. A few ideas might be canned soups, applesauce, fresh and canned fruit, pudding, yogurt, smoothie pops, popsicles, ice cream, sherbet, and sorbet.
- Smells are a huge trigger for nausea. While nasty smells are obvious, other seemingly innocent odors and fragrances (like lotions or perfumes) can also spell trouble. Do what you can to keep your surroundings odor-free, such as switching to fragrance-free products (unless a particular smell is enjoyable for you) and cracking a window to let fresh air in. The cool air might be helpful in its own right. Getting on the subway? Tuck some pleasant smelling thing (lemon slices, a yummy lip balm, mint gum, etc.) in your bag to sniff in case there’s a stinky situation.
- More on odors. Food odors, to be specific. If you’re in the grips of nausea, cooking can be a horrendous thing. And, even if you manage to cook that meal without getting sick, odds have it you’ll have little desire to eat what you’ve just prepared. Make life easier for yourself by buying pre-cooked food when possible or food that requires a short cook-time. Keep the fan on and open the windows while you’re at it. If it’s nice out, cook outside. If friends offer to bring dinner, take them up on it and provide suggestions for what you can tolerate. Another way to limit food odors is by serving food cold or at room temperature (assuming it’s been properly cooked first), thus cutting down on steam odors.
- Try refreshing tastes…and tastes that don’t trigger gastric flashbacks (AKA reflux). Fruit, sherbet, sorbet, and ginger (which has natural anti-nausea properties) are all good to try. Greasy, acidic, heavily seasoned, strongly pungent or aromatic foods–like onions and garlic, for example–are best avoided for now. They can be tough to get down and even harder to keep down, especially if you’re tasting them every time you burp. While your food doesn’t have to be utterly bland and tasteless, go easy.
- While crackers and toast are well and good (and a common recommendation for nausea), studies have shown that adding protein will do more to quell nausea than carbs alone. A bit of cheese, yogurt, or a few bites of left-over chicken would be quick and easy additions.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself. Take small portions and eat frequently. I often encourage my patients to use small cocktail-size plates and dixie cups. While you might feel a wee bit silly at first, a few sips or bites are much less daunting than a plateful of food.
- Distract yourself while eating. Read a magazine. Watch a show. Listen to a podcast. Sit outside. Left alone to your thoughts and nausea, you’ll be more likely to either lose your appetite or lose your lunch.