Jordan didn't know what was going on in his stomach. But after eating lunch and going to recess, he stopped wanting to run around after a soccer ball. Was it something he ate? Did he gobble his lunch too fast? Was he coming down with the stomach "flu"?
Jordan was just about to ask his best friend, Nate, for some advice, when Jordan felt like something moved inside his belly. Before he could take a breath, a giant multicolored mess came out of his mouth. "Yuck!" yelled Nate. Jordan felt like yelling too, but his nose was clogged and his throat burned so badly he could barely talk.
What just happened? Jordan just threw up, or puked. But what is puke? It goes by many names: vomit, throw up, upchuck, gut soup, ralphing, and barf. Whatever you call it, it's the same stuff: mushed-up, half-digested food or liquid that gets mixed with spit and stomach juices as it makes a quick exit up your throat and out of your mouth.
Sometimes puke tastes bitter, sometimes it tastes sour. Sometimes it tastes like the food you just ate, and it's often the color of what you last munched on, too. For example, blueberry pie might churn up blue puke. A red ice pop might make red puke. Your puke may be green sometimes, but that's not because you ate green beans. Puke looks green when a chemical called bile (say: byel) mixes with it. This will happen if the food that comes back up is squeezed from your intestines into your stomach and then up your throat. Be sure to tell a parent if your puke looks green.
No matter what color it is, though, puke usually stinks — whether you've eaten tuna fish, toast, or jelly beans.
How Does Your Body Do That?
Normally, your digestive system carries food down your throat, into your stomach, and on through your intestines until what's left of the food reaches the end of the line at your rectum and comes out as a bowel movement (what you might call poop).
But if you have a virus or other germs in your stomach or intestine, eat food with lots of bacteria (say: bak-teer-ee-uh) in it, feel very nervous, or spin too fast on the merry-go-round, your stomach or intestines might say "this food is stopping here." When that happens, the muscles in your stomach and intestines push food up instead of down and carry that food right back up to where it started — your mouth.
Can Puking Be Prevented?
As gross as it can look and feel, puking is pretty normal. Everyone has puked during their life, even your mom or dad. When you're sick with the stomach "flu" you may need to puke, and there's not much you can do about it. Sometimes being nervous or eating too much food is all it takes to upset your stomach. In these cases, you often can help your stomach by relaxing and taking a few slow deep breaths.
Motion sickness — a sick feeling that some people get from riding in cars, boats, or airplanes — can sometimes be helped by eating a small snack before you start moving. If you know that trips to grandma's house make you feel yucky, ask your parents for some crackers or a piece of fruit before you hop into the car. Opening the car window a bit and letting in some fresh air can also help prevent that pukey feeling. If this doesn't work, talk with your mom or dad about medicines that might help motion sickness.
Puking in Public
If you're at school or a friend's house and you feel like your stomach is upset enough to make you puke, head to a bathroom or sink. But you might end up like Jordan and puke on the playground or your math workbook. It's not a pretty sight, but don't feel embarrassed — remember, all people puke sometimes! You can make the best of it by staying calm. Catch your breath and let a teacher or adult know what happened. If you don't feel well enough to find an adult, ask a friend to go.
If you see someone else puke, don't make a big deal about it. You'll only embarrass the person who's sick and already feels bad enough. Instead, stay calm and give the person a tissue if you've got one handy. Offer to find an adult or get a glass of water. Sometimes just having you nearby will help the person feel better.
After You Puke
Once you've puked, it's time to work on feeling better. Relax — lie down or sit down — and when you feel well enough, try to take a few sips of water. Don't drink soda or fruit juices right away, because they tend to make upset stomachs feel worse.
Also, don't drink while you're lying down — that makes it too easy for the liquid to come back up. Drink little bits at a time and catch your breath in between sips. You'll most likely begin to feel better pretty quickly. You might feel ready to take bigger sips of liquid and maybe even eat something. If, however, you have a fever, puke several times in a day, or puke for more than a day or two, your body might be telling you to see a doctor. Make sure your parents or another adult know if you've been puking a lot.
Puke is pretty yucky. Luckily, most kids don't puke very often. And when you do, remember that you'll probably feel better very soon.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2012