What is the treatment for the stomach flu and what should I eat?

Answer: There is no specific treatment except to prevent dehydration and possibly take anti-vomiting medications.

"Stomach flu" is just a nickname for viral gastroenteritis. It is not related to influenza, the real flu.There is no medicine that kills the viruses that cause the stomach flu. It will usually go away on its own but you need to prevent dehydration. Once the vomiting starts to subside, physicians generally recommend giving just one sip of liquid (such as the oral rehydration solution Pedialyte® to the sick person). If that one sip stays down for 10 minutes, give them another sip. Giving one sip every 5-10 minutes is a good way to start. Large amounts of liquid at once will likely come right back up. Carbonated beverages and milk are not recommended. Clear fruit juices and water are fine as well. My children and I think Pedialyte tastes terrible so we don't use it. Pedialyte® popsicle are much better. I give my children apple juice, water, or ice chips. Clear soda is fine IF you let it sit out until the carbonation is gone. Formula or breast milk should still be given to infants. If you can't get to the store, you can have some Pedialyte® and saltine crackers overnighted from amazon. When the small sips are staying down, you can try a popsicle. No solid food should be eaten (not even a cracker) until the person has no problem keeping down a full glass of water/juice/pedialyte. Then start off eating slow with one cracker. Eating too much before your stomach is ready can cause a relapse of vomiting. Please remember that I am not a medical doctor. If you want to talk to a medical doctor online and possibly get a prescription to stop vomiting such as Zofran, click here.

I had a stomach bug in Feb. 2012. I was lucky and only had 2 bouts of vomiting. After I hadn't vomited for a few hours, I was so thirsty. I tried sip of pediatlye and thought it was disgusting. All I wanted was a sip of ice water. So, that is what I had. Refreshing, delicious water. I just had 1 sip every 10 minutes and that stayed down fine. The next morning, I started sipping apple juice which tasted delicious to me. I started eating a few saltine crackers after I hadn't vomited for about 18 hours. I didn't have any other food until I had given my intestines 24 hours to rest. This is just what I did and what worked for me. Please remember that I am not a medical doctor and this is not "medical advice".

Babies and little children can dehydrate very quickly and it can be life threatening. Dehydration is more likely if your child is having lots of vomiting and diarrhea the same day. If you think you or your child is getting dehydrated, you will need to go to the hospital. Sometimes the ER doctor will give you/your child an IV to replace lost fluids and salts. Sometimes they will just give you some anti-nausea medication and a popsicle. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, few tears when crying, and dry/sunken eyes with dark circles. For more information on symptoms of dehydration please visit the MayoClinic web site or this Dr. Sears dehydration web page. It is also common for adults to need an IV when they have a bad case of the stomach flu. Even our pediatrician told me that she was so sick with the stomach flu last year that she had to call an ambulance to come get her. So, don't be embarrassed to go to the ER. I always panic and worry about dehydration. However, I recently came across this information from the Senders Pediatrics website that makes dehydration seem less common than we think.

"It is very uncommon for a child with a stomach virus to become dehydrated unless it has been accompanied by vomiting for a couple of days straight. It is especially unusual for a child with diarrhea alone to become dehydrated." Senders Pediatrics

Once the person hasn't vomited for several hours and is keeping down liquids with no problem, it is okay to try small amounts of bland food (like saltine crackers). Rice Chex cereal is also a good option. It is gluten-free (which can be easier on the intestines) and also contains sodium and potassium. If you don't feel like eating, don't eat. As long as you are getting enough liquids, you will be okay. It is impossible to get a sick child to eat if they don't want to. Don't worry about it. My 7 year old son didn't eat any solid food for 2 days after his last vomiting illness. If the child is drinking enough, they will be okay even if they don't eat much for a few days while recovering. The opposite can also happen. Young children might beg for food when it is too early to have it. My 6 year old niece recently had a terrible stomach bug where she vomited off and on for 3 days and couldn't even keep ice chips down. Nevertheless, she kept begging for a chicken salad sandwich and a chocolate milkshake. (It would not have been a good idea to give it to her.) When the child is well and his/her appetite returns, he/she will want extra meals and snacks and will gain their weight back. If a person is suffering from diarrhea, physicians once recommended the BRAT diet (banans, rice, applesauce, and toast). However, the Senders Pediatrics website said that returning to a regular diet with fat and protein (including milk) will help the child get over the diarrhea faster. I, personally, let my recovering children eat whatever healthy food they are willing to eat (and it is never rice). You should probably follow your pediatricians advice about this.

Do not take anti-diarrhea medication unless your doctor specifically tells you to. Depending on which bug is infecting you, that medication can make things worse.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe an anti-nausea medication for you such as Phenergan or Zofran. For young children, doctors can prescribe small Zofran pills that melt in their mouth. They worked wonders for my niece when she was on her 4th day of vomiting and my sister finally took her to the ER. I recently met a mother of 8 children who swears by Emetrol, an over the counter anti-nausea medicine. She said her family has used it many times when a stomach bug hits them to prevent vomiting. Emetrol is a thick cherry syrup. I think it tastes yucky and I couldn't force myself to take it the last time I had a stomach virus. I couldn't force my 7 year old son to take it. It is so difficult to swallow anything when you are so nauseated. I wish I had taken it, though. It might have helped. The Senders Pediatrics website says that giving a child 2 teaspoons of the thick fruit syrup from a can of peaches or fruit cocktail, can help stop vomiting. They said the syrup coats the nerve endings in the stomach and helps calm it. This treatment is similar to the emetrol.

It is very important to clean with a product that actually kills norovirus when a stomach bug is in your home such as the Clorox® Hydrogen Peroxide Spray


If you or your child seems very sick, please call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room. I am not a medical doctor and this information is not intended to be medical advice. For more information about caring for a child with the stomach flu check out the Dr. Sears web site.

--Annie Pryor, Ph.D.

Viewer Comments

White Grape Juice helped me feel better.

I don't often get the flu, but I got hit with the stomach variety on Friday night. I was spewing stuff out of both ends of my body simultaneously from 11:00pm - 4:00am. In the morning I asked my husband to get me some Welch's white grape juice - 100% juice with no sugar added. I was a little leery about trying it because it of the high sugar content and I couldn't imagine being able to keep something so sweet down in an already upset stomach. But I thought I would never know until I did try it.

For me, the results were absolute. With the first sips, it alleviated my nausea. I sipped small amounts throughout the day. When I tried to eat or drink things and they made me feel nauseated, I sipped some white grape juice and it immediately alleviated the nausea. It is Tuesday morning and I am feeling nauseated from my breakfast and I am wishing that I didn't run out of white grape juice last night. I wasn't going to get any more but I may change my mind shortly. I don't know how it may affect other varieties and symptoms of the flu, but it has helped greatly with nausea and that in itself has been wonderful.


Zofran works for me

Just wanted to say thank you for your informative site regarding stomach viruses. I have emetophobia and also have three small children (7,5, and 3) and we have had two rounds of norovirus here in the past two years. They were AWFUL and so I am very conscious of trying to avoid another round as long as possible!

Anyway, I wanted to mention to you that the prescription drug Zofran does help avoiding vomiting during a stomach virus. I keep it on hand and start taking it religiously when anyone in the house starts to throw up. I felt very sick both times everyone in the family got norovirus, but neither time did I throw up. It is a LIFESAVER for me, because I have a very, very bad case of emet. I think I'd have to leave the house otherwise!


Advice from a mother of 6.

My name is Julie, and I am a mother of 6. I

happened to stumble onto your website in a desperate attempt to get more

information on these dreaded bugs. We are currently in the midst of our

Feb./March round of stomach virus. Five of my six children are now over

the worst of it, but I will be laying awake tonight, waiting for that

tell-tale coughing and gagging to signal that child #6 has begun to

suffer. I've been emetophobic ever since I can remember. Being a mother

for the past 14 years has really kicked it into high gear. Like you, I

would love nothing more than to have all stomach viruses eliminated from

earth. I have been tempted to keep my family home during the months of

Feb./March and October/November. We already homeschool, so I could

actually pull that one off, but as long as my husband is going to work, it

would be pointless. I am horrified that most people are back at work or

school the moment they feel better. I've read the same information you

have about being contagous afterwards, and I try to allow 3 days before

exposure to anyone outside our family.

I'll share what I've compiled from our many experiences with rotavirus and

her friends.

My most recent observation was that the kids that got sick in the late

afternoon or evening (6pm till 8:30pm) were the ones who vomited many more

times and for a much longer period. Usually 10 hours of every 30 min. or

so) My two children that started vomiting in the early morning hours (4am

and 5:30am) each puked 2 times and were feeling great within 3-4 hours. I

have to wonder if this had something to do with the amount of food in

their system to begin with. I don't know. I only allow small ice chips

while they are still actively vomiting, although they will no doubt be

begging for a big drink of ice water toward the end. Once they've had a

nice long break from vomiting, I will let them take small sips of gatoraid

or iced ginger tea. To make this, I thinly slice several rounds of fresh

ginger root and place it in a small saucepan. Cover with 3 cups water and

simmer with lid on for atleast 1/2 hour. I pour the hot liquid (remove

ginger pieces) over a plain cheap tea bag, and allow to steep for a couple

minutes. Only add the bare minimum of sweetener, and then pour over ice.

Other items that sound good are jello (cut up into small cubes) and if

there hasn't been severe diarrhea, some cold pears, peeled and cut up.

Other little tricks I've learned over the years, and this is if I have

some reason to believe it's headed our way.

1. Keep girls hair up off their face at night. A soft pony tail worn high

on the head will not interfere with sleep, but it will keep their hair out

of the puke, and might help you avoid giving a shower in the middle of the


2. Have a bucket with a wet rag ready at the side of my bed. In my

experience, a sick kid will usually find mom before the toilet, so this

way I can usually avoid a major clean up, and have more time to comfort

the sicky.