Dry Heaving (Retching): Causes, Symptoms, and Home Remedies

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Dry Heaving
Credit: iStock.com/doo_yikyik

Dry heaving can be as hard on your mind as it is on your body. Although temporary, having the incontrollable urge to vomit without the physical ability to remove contents from the stomach can be frightening. Also referred to as retching, dry heaving may be prevented with a few lifestyle changes.

Learn how to stop dry heaving fast and what type of activities and underlying conditions can lead to these episodes.

What is dry heaving? Basically, the meaning lies in the retching definition of voluntarily, or involuntarily, attempting to vomit without producing any substance.

These spasm-like movements within the respiratory system involve the closing of the glottis, which is the opening located between the vocal folds. At the same time, the stomach cavity, known as the antrum, contracts while the fundus and cardia open. These parts are located in the upper stomach, near the esophagus.

Essentially, your diaphragm is contracting as your airway closes. Vomiting with no discharge is another way to explain the phenomenon. But, what does dry heaving mean from a health standpoint?

 

What Causes Dry Heaving?

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as GERD, is one of the more common dry heaving causes. It is seen when ingested food or stomach acid is forced to enter the esophagus (the food pipe) as a regurgitation occurrence.

This action is referred to as reflux, and can lead to dry heaving, heartburn, and discomfort. It can also irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause permanent damage if left untreated.

Stress and Anxiety

The toll of emotional and mental stress can have a physical effect on our body, producing headaches, heart palpitations, or dry heaves.

Dry heaving anxiety can lead to other serious complications such as digestive and bowel disorders, heart disease, insomnia, or severe depression. These can occur as dry heaving can trigger isolation and worry.

Excessive Alcohol Use

Drinking large amounts of alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, can lead to retching or dry heaves. In the early stages, vomiting is often present and the dry heaving occurs after the stomach has been emptied.

With the alcohol contents of beer, wine, or hard liquor, a chemical known as acetaldehyde forms inside the body. This substance is responsible for the nausea sensation that ensues the day after binge drinking.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy brings various symptoms, one possibly being dry heaving pregnancy episodes. This is usually seen in women with morning sickness, after any stomach contents have been expelled.

Most cases of morning sickness dissipate at the beginning of the second trimester, while dry heaves may be present throughout the entire pregnancy. This may be partly due to the biochemical process of breaking down carbohydrates, hormonal changes, and changes in blood pressure.

Low Blood Sugar Levels

A low blood sugar count, known as hypoglycemia, occurs when the glucose level in the blood is below the normal range. One of the common symptoms may be dry heaves, along with nausea and shaking.

The body’s natural production of ketones, alternative fuel, helps to prevent hypoglycemia after a strenuous exercise routine or with extreme hunger. For diabetic patients, a high supply of ketones can cause dry heaves.

Food Poisoning

A mild or severe case of food poisoning, seen with consumption of contaminated foods or beverages, may also be what causes dry heaves. These items can be infected by viruses, bacteria, or parasite strains. Dry heaving usually continues until the last of the pathogens are eliminated from the body.

In most cases, food poisoning happens with the improper handling and preparation of food. In addition to dry heaves, symptoms that may be experienced include vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea, and cramping.

Cancer Treatment

The cancer disease itself or treatment of radiation or chemotherapy drugs may lead to dry heaves. The retching may be a lone symptom or can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Some cancer drugs stimulate the intestinal muscles to contract, and without any food contents in the stomach, dry heaving occurs.

Exercise

When the body moves in various positions during strenuous exercise routines, the stomach muscles and diaphragm contract. Additional pressure on and movement of internal organs may also trigger dry heaves.

Dry heaves may start, whether the stomach is empty or too full. It is important to fuel your body with food before a workout routine, but overeating can cause retching.

To protect the muscles, all exercises should start at the lowest level and build up resistance at a steady and slow pace. This is to prevent the stomach acid and any contents from reentering the esophagus, which can lead to dry heaving.

Medications

A side effect of some medications is dry heaving. Talk to your doctor about any episodes of dry heaves before cutting back on or stopping the use of any medication. Dry heaves may also be experienced when ending medications.

Medications that often cause retching include those used to treat depression, anxiety, cancer, and sleep disorders.

Tongue Cleaning

Cleaning the tongue at home, or professionally, may cause a gagging reflex, which can trigger dry heaves.

Whopping Cough

Medically referred to as pertussis, whopping cough is a contagious respiratory bacterial infection. Dry heaving may occur as a result of the constant and severe bouts of coughing.

In addition to the retching episodes, whopping cough may also cause vomiting, difficulty with breathing, or bladder issues such as urinary incontinence.

How to Stop Dry Heaving

Hydration

Dry heaving may subside by sipping plenty of cold fluids, mainly water, so as to not upset the stomach. If the retching is severe, sucking on ice cubes until fluids can be kept down may help.

Bland Foods

Dry heaves may produce a tart taste in the mouth, which may stimulate more retching. The taste may be alleviated by consuming bland foods such as crackers, white rice, plain toast, eggs, broth, low-sugar cereals, and tofu. These types of food are easy to digest and do not irritate the stomach lining.

Ginger

Use the antispasmodic properties of ginger to calm irritated abdominal muscles causing the dry heaving. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant components to treat food poisoning.

Drink three cups of ginger tea daily made with one to two inches of finely chopped fresh ginger root. Allow the ginger to steep in hot water for five minutes before straining and sipping slowly.

Chewing on raw ginger could also help with dry heaving episodes.

Peppermint

Soothe the irritation of the stomach lining with the use of peppermint oil or tea. Its antispasmodic properties target the cause of the dry heaves naturally.

Add hot water to one teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves and allow to steep for seven minutes before drinking. Use one to two drops of peppermint oil on a cloth to get the benefits through inhalation.

Lemon

The neutralizing acids of lemons promote the production of essential bicarbonates to reduce stomach acidity. This action may alleviate the dry heaving.

Mix fresh lemon juice with one teaspoon of honey for an edible concoction to soothe dry heaving. A fresh lemon juice drink of one half of a lemon and one teaspoon of salt can be made to inhale before drinking slowly. Those with high blood pressure should omit the salt.

Inhaling the aroma of a freshly cut lemon may also help with the nausea and dry heaves.

Clove

Cloves have been used for years to relieve pregnancy nausea and as a natural remedy for dry heaves.

Steep one teaspoon of clove powder in a cup of boiled water. Strain and sip slowly on the drink. Honey can be added for taste.

Chewing on pieces of fresh clove may alleviate dry heaving. Clove oil can be applied to a cloth for inhalation purposes as well.

Cumin

The digestive, gas-relieving, antibacterial, and disinfecting components of the spice known as cumin may work to treat dry heaving symptoms as well as the retching itself.

Cover a cup of boiling water and one teaspoon of cumin seeds. Slowly sip the tea to gather the seeds in the mouth to chew. Add nutmeg or one teaspoon of dry roasted cumin seeds.

Fennel

The muscle contractions common with dry heaving may be settled with the use of the carminative properties of fennel seeds. Fennel could help soothe gas within the gastrointestinal tract.

Add one teaspoon of fennel seeds to a cup of boiling water and cover to allow it to steep for 10 minutes. Drink with slow sips and add honey and lemon juice for taste.

Chew the fennel seeds once the drink is finished. You can also munch on dry fennel seeds.

Apple Cider Vinegar

The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar could possibly destroy bad bacteria and stimulate the formation of good bacteria to fight dry heaving.

In a glass of warm water, add one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and one teaspoon of honey. Drink at the first sign of dry heaves.

Cinnamon

The antibacterial and spasm-blocking properties of cinnamon may target the cause of dry heaves. This spice has chemicals known as catechins that could tackle the symptoms of dry heaving while calming the stomach muscles.

Add a half or one teaspoon of cinnamon powder to boiling water or add a whole cinnamon stick to the water. Steep for 10 minutes before straining the tea. Add honey for a sweet taste.

Cinnamon powder should not be used by pregnant women to avoid possible premature labor. More testing is needed to understand the effect of cinnamon on pregnancy.

Anise

Anise seed has antibacterial, gas-settling, and stomachic properties that might treat the irritation, muscle contractions, and discomfort of dry heaves.

Add one teaspoon of anise seed to a pot of one cup of water. Bring to a boil and steep for five minutes before straining and sip slowly. Anise seeds can also be chewed for relief of dry heaving.

Rice Water

Another traditional remedy for dry heaves is drinking rice water to maintain hydration within the body. This could stop retching while settling any irritation of the stomach.

Boil one part rice to three parts water for approximately 20 minutes, covered. Strain rice water into a jar. Sip slowly on one cup of rice water.


Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Dry Heaving

Controlled Alcohol Use

Any alcohol use should be limited to avoid vomiting that can lead to dry heaves. Consume any alcoholic drink on a full stomach.

Small Meal Portions

Having small meal portions may help prevent dry heaves, as eating too much food at once can lead to GERD, one of the leading causes. Just as important is maintaining a regular eating schedule, planning meals and snacks every two to three hours as opposed to eating three times a day.

Limit Caffeine

Coffee, teas, and caffeinated foods can irritate and damage the gastrointestinal tract. Cut back on caffeine intake to prevent dry heaves.

Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

Any time the blood sugar level drops, the risk for having dry heaves can rise. With any symptoms of shakiness and slight nausea, eat a small amount of naturally sweet food to increase blood sugar levels.

Live Healthy Lifestyle

By either avoiding or managing stress, getting plenty of sleep every night, and staying hydrated, a dry heaving episode can be prevented.

A dry heaves episode can feel like the body is rejecting the simplest of things, even water. Many times, dry heaving can last several hours that seem like a lifetime. Excessive amounts of alcohol is one of the more common causes, but dry heaving can also occur with the use of certain medications, high levels of stress, strenuous exercise, and can also be triggered by some health conditions. Natural home remedies that use herbs and clear liquids may help to alleviate dry heaves and any accompanying symptoms. The dry heaves may also be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle and taking precautions when it comes to sensitive stomachs.


Related:


Sources:
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“Dry Heaving – Causes, Symptoms And How To Stop,” Act for Libraries; http://www.actforlibraries.org/dry-heaving-causes-symptoms-how-to-stop/, last accessed August 29, 2017.
“13 Surprising Benefits of Cumin,” Organic Facts; https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/seed-and-nut/health-benefits-of-cumin.html, last accessed August 29, 2017.
“Cinnamon Side Effects,” Med-Health; http://www.med-health.net/cinnamon-powder.html, last accessed August 29, 2017.
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Milosevic, S., MD, “Dry Heaves, Nausea, Vomiting, And Other Digestive Symptoms Related To Physical Activity,” Steady Health; http://www.steadyhealth.com/medical-answers/dry-heaves-nausea-vomiting-and-other-digestive-symptoms-related-to-physical-activity, last accessed August 29, 2017.

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