Causes of Throwing Up White Foam and How to Treat It
Vomiting is not an illness itself. It is the body's way of eliminating foreign or harmful substances that have been ingested, or it can be a reaction to something irritating the stomach.
"Repetitive retching or illness might require symptomatic treatment," advises Dr. Englander. In humans, if foamy vomit is accompanied by other symptoms, like headaches and abdominal pain, it may be indicative of an underlying gastrointestinal condition.
What Causes a Person to Throw Up White Foam?
If your vomit is white or foamy, there are several possible causes:
1. Vomiting on an Empty Stomach
If you are continuously vomiting, pretty soon, you will empty your stomach of food. When this happens, you will begin throwing up a mixture of other stomach contents. According to Dr. Glenn H. Englander, a gastroenterologist out of West Palm Beach, Florida, foamy throw up consists of mucus, stomach acid, and swallowed saliva.
2. Excess Alcohol Consumption
Drinking too much alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, can irritate the stomach lining, leading to stomach pains, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. After a rough night, you may experience a hangover that is accompanied by a headache, dehydration, and a strong urge to vomit. The throw up may appear foamy with a slight tint of yellow.
3. Eating Certain Foods
For example, consuming a lot of ice cream with carbonated drinks on an empty stomach can create frothy, white vomit. In addition, spicy, fatty, or acidic foods and drinks make acid reflux more likely.
4. Acid Reflux or GERD
Acid reflux and GERD result from stomach acid going up the esophagus, giving you a burning sensation in the chest (heartburn) and making you want to throw up the acid, which will appear foamy and clear.
Bacterial or viral infections of the gut usually lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.
Yeast infection of the digestive tract can also produce yellow or white throw up because of the mixture of yeast cells/colonies, stomach acid, and mucus.
7. Hiatal Hernia
Hiatal hernias make acid reflux more likely. You may also experience periodic, sharp, jabbing pains in the stomach.
8. Intense Coughing
Sometimes, you may be coughing so hard that you feel like you're hacking up a lung. Intense coughing episodes, brought on by choking, allergies, whooping cough, or bronchitis, may cause you to throw up a bit of saliva and mucus as your body tries to clear the irritation in your lungs and throat.
Morning sickness and acid reflux are common conditions that occur during pregnancy. This is due to fluctuations in hormone levels as well as physical changes like your baby pressing up against the stomach. Pregnant women may feel the urge to vomit frequently, especially in the morning. Because your stomach empties during the night, the vomit may appear frothy.
10. Certain Medications
Some drugs, such as antibiotics, aspirin, ibuprofen, and morphine, commonly induce nausea and vomiting as a side effect.
In this article, we will discuss the four underlying medical conditions that can cause you to throw up white foam.
When to Be Concerned
If you notice that you're throwing up more frequently or that you can't stop vomiting, call your doctor immediately. Excessive vomiting can lead to dehydration and damage to the esophagus.
Medical Conditions That Can Lead to Vomiting White Foam
H. pylori Infection
Abdominal pain and discomfort
Pain while swallowing
Excessive belching and bloating
Excessive bloating and flatulence
Abdominal or chest pains
Excessive belching and bloating
Excessive belching and bloating
Vomiting (bloody vomit)
Dark or tarry stools (occasionally, blood stools)
White patches on the tongue
Bitter taste in the back of the mouth
Wheezing or asthma-like symptoms
Decreased sex drive
1. Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are two different conditions that are closely related.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux, or heartburn, occurs when stomach acid moves back up into the esophagus. It is also called gastroesophageal reflux. As the stomach acid passes through the esophagus, a burning sensation can be felt in the chest. If the stomach acid makes its way to the top of your esophagus, you may experience a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
Other symptoms include:
- Excessive bloating and burping
- Feeling like something is caught in your throat
What Causes Acid Reflux?
A common cause is a hiatal hernia (discussed later in this article)—when the upper portion of your stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. Certain foods and conditions can also increase your risk of getting acid reflux:
- Eating large meals
- Lying down immediately after eating
- Eating spicy, acidic, or fatty foods
- Drinking alcohol and carbonated drinks
- Medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and muscle relaxers
How Is GERD Different From Acid Reflux?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is frequent and chronic acid reflux. GERD is a digestive disorder, whereas acid reflux is more of a symptom.
Constant irritation of the esophagus by the stomach acid can induce nausea and vomiting. If you have an empty stomach, you will mostly be throwing up the stomach acid, which can appear as white or clear, foamy liquid.
How Do I Stop Acid Reflux and GERD?
Typically, acid reflux and GERD can be treated at home using three types of medications available over the counter:
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- H2 blockers
Antacids are usually made with sodium bicarbonate, aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, or calcium carbonate, and are used to neutralize stomach acid.
Popular antacids available over the counter include:
- Milk of Magnesia
Overuse or long-term use may present with unwanted side effects such as rebound hyperacidity (overproduction of stomach acid to compensate), aluminum intoxication (for antacids made with aluminum hydroxide), constipation or diarrhea, headaches, and more nausea. Antacids are considered safe during pregnancy, although some experts (and mothers) advise against using calcium- or magnesium-based antacids because they can affect contractions during the third trimester. It is best to use only as indicated on the product label, as directed by your doctor or pharmacist, and only when symptoms appear.
2. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI)
If antacids do not reduce your acid reflux, proton pump inhibitors, may be used. As the name indicates, these drugs work by reducing or preventing your stomach from producing more acid.
Common PPIs available over the counter are:
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate (Zegerid)
3. H2 Blockers
Another over-the-counter acid reflux medication is H2 blockers, or histamine receptor antagonists. H2 blockers work by binding to histamine receptors, preventing them from binding to histamines that normally signal cells in the stomach to produce acid.
H2 blockers available over the counter include:
- Cimetidine (Tagamet HB)
- Famotidine (Calmicid, Fluxid, Pepcid AC)
- Nizatidine (Axid)
- Ranitidine (Tritec, Wal-Zan, Zantac)
However, if it is caused by a more serious condition, such as a hiatal hernia, it may require professional—perhaps surgical—treatment.
2. Helicobacter Pylori Infection
An H. pylori infection can cause you to have foamy vomit. H. pylori are spiral-shaped bacteria that lives in the stomach. About 40% of Americans have an H. pylori infection and may not even know it because the infection does not usually cause symptoms. However, they can lead to gastritis (stomach inflammation) and peptic ulcers by breaking down the protective mucous layer in the stomach. Irritation of the stomach lining can cause you to throw up white, foamy vomit.
It's unclear how H. pylori spreads, but it is most likely through bodily fluids, unclean water, and foods that are not prepared properly. An unbalanced gut microbiota may also give H. pylori a greater chance of causing damage.
- Abdominal pain, sometimes like a burning sensation, that is worse when your stomach is empty
- Frequent burping and bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
How Do I Treat an H. Pylori Infection?
Treatment involves taking proton pump inhibitors (see the acid reflux treatments above) and two different antibiotics for two weeks. It is important to follow your doctor's instructions fully to ensure the treatment is effective and to prevent antibiotic resistance.
Preventing an infection involves general hygiene recommendations:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food.
- Make sure foods are cooked all the way through.
3. Candida Albicans
Another possible condition that can cause foamy vomit is candidiasis, an infection by the yeast Candida albicans. This type of yeast infection is commonly found in the mouth, throat, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina. They are a part of the body's natural microbial community and are usually benign. In fact, they aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. However, they are opportunistic pathogens, meaning if the conditions are just right, they will multiply rapidly and start an infection.
What Causes Candida Overgrowth and Infection?
- Poor oral hygiene
- Eating too much sugar: Sugar is an alternative food source for yeast (in lack of oxygen). This is known as fermentation
- Antibiotics: Taking antibiotics can upset the balance of your body's microbial community, killing off bacteria that normally keep yeast populations down.
- Uncontrolled diabetes: Elevated blood sugar levels can cause recurring yeast infections.
A tell-tale sign of Candida infection is oral thrush—white patches on the tongue.
Overgrowth of Candida in the intestines can cause:
- Malaise and fatigue
- Craving for sweets
- Frequent bloating and burping
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gastrointestinal conditions such as gastric ulcers and ulcerative colitis
Candida is rarely serious if the immune system is functioning properly. On the other hand, a weak or compromised immune system increases your risk of getting an infection. A yeast infection becomes dangerous when it gets into the bloodstream and reaches the heart, the brain, or other vital organs. 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 yeast, prevention includes proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
What Is Used to Treat Intestinal or Stomach Infections Caused by Candida?
Candida infection of the digestive tract is usually treated using a prescribed antifungal—taken orally or intravenously—for two or more weeks. This may be supplemented with other medication aimed at treating the most severe symptoms, such as pain and nausea.
4. Hiatal Hernia
A hiatal hernia occurs when the top part of the stomach pushes upward into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm where the esophagus weaves through. The diaphragm separates the abdomen from the chest, and, along with the lower esophageal sphincter, helps prevent stomach acids from going backwards into the esophagus.
Hiatal hernias allow stomach contents to move up into the esophagus more easily, making it one of the primary causes for 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, causing damage and inflammation.
Symptoms of a hiatal hernia are similar to that of acid reflux but with the addition of intense abdominal and chest pains:
- Constant bloating or burping
- Burning sensation in the chest
- Abdominal and chest pains
- Bad breath and bad taste in the back of the mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
The exact cause of a hiatal hernia is unknown, although some are born with it or may be predisposed to getting it. For example, it occurs more frequently in people over 50. Sometimes it is due to an injury or condition that has weakened the muscle tissue of the diaphragm, allowing the stomach to push through.
How Are Hiatal Hernias Treated?
Hiatal hernias repair is typically done through laparoscopic surgery—a technique of performing internal repairs through tiny incisions using an endoscope. The opening in the diaphragm may be tightened, and the stomach may be stitched in place to prevent future hernias from occurring.
How Do I Stop Throwing Up Repeatedly?
While vomiting foam isn't a cause for alarm, consistently doing so should be a concern. Treatment may very well be necessary. Excessive vomiting is a symptom of an underlying disease. If you take an antiemetic medication to treat 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 recurring conditions like GERD, the best treatment is a change in lifestyle.
Here are some tips to help you deal with frequent reflux or vomiting:
1. Change Your Eating Habits
Reflux or other digestive disorders are often triggered 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.
- Chew slowly and thoroughly.
- Avoid eating excessive fatty, acidic, or spicy foods.
- Avoid eating too much. Eating frequent, smaller portions gives you a better chance of fully digesting your food, reducing the risk for acid reflux.
- Consider adding probiotics to your diet. Supplementing with good bacteria from fermented foods, Greek yogurt, or probiotic supplements helps restore your gut's balance, aids in digestion, and also fights off bad bacteria.
2. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Don't lie down or go to sleep immediately after eating. Walking around can help things move more fluidly.
Doing light exercises a couple of hours after eating promotes a healthy metabolism and helps you shed excess weight. Overweight individuals have a greater risk for reflux. Excessive smoking and drinking also puts you at greater risk for acid reflux.
3. Wear Comfortable Clothes
Tight clothes, especially jeans, can be restrictive and compress the internal organs. This can cause intestinal blockage that can make acid reflux more likely. Try wearing looser clothes such as pants or shorts with an elastic waistband.
4. Try Natural Home Remedies
- Drink ginger tea or ginger ale. Ginger is commonly used to soothe stomach pain and aide in digestion, and has been shown to be effective for stopping nausea and vomiting.
- Drink baking soda. A teaspoon of baking soda mixed with eight ounces of water can neutralize excess stomach acid.
- Eat raw almonds. Almonds are an alkaline nut, meaning they have low-acidity and can help reduce acid reflux and balance stomach pH levels.
- Drink aloe vera juice. Half a cup of aloe vera juice can significantly reduce inflammation—similar to how over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol work. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that aloe vera can be effective for reducing symptoms of acid reflux and GERD.
- Drink chamomile tea. One cup of chamomile tea can help soothe stomach inflammation. According to a 2010 review published in Molecular Medical Reports, chamomile tea has been found to possess many health benefits, including the ability to reduce stomach acidity as well as some over-the-counter antacids can.
This article is not meant to diagnose and should be used for informational purposes only. Always consult your doctor to help pinpoint the cause of excessive vomiting and related symptoms.
Sources & More Information
CDC. (4 Aug., 2017). Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Retrieved Jun. 23, 2018.
Debra G. Wechter, MD. (26 Nov., 2017). Hiatal hernia repair. MedlinePlus. Retrieved Jun. 23, 2018.
"Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." WebMD. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
Harvard Medical School. (Sept. 2010). That nagging cough. Harvard Health Publishing.
Mayo Clinic Staff. "Hiatal hernia." Feb. 3, 2015. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
Santacroce, Luigi, MD. "Helicobacter Pylori Infection." March 15, 2016. Medscape. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
Sheila Crowe, MD. (5 Sept., 2017). Patient education: Helicobacter pylori infection and treatment (Beyond the Basics). UptoDate.
Tidy, Colin, MBBS. (16 March, 2018). H2 Blockers. Patient.
"What Is Acid Reflux Disease?" WebMD. Retrieved Nov. 26, 2016.
What is the difference between GERD and Acid Reflux?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.