Toddler Throwing Up Mucus: 5 Common Causes & How To Help

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

It is not uncommon for young children to expel phlegm through coughing, and it is typically not a cause for concern, particularly if the child is sick or has allergies.

Postnasal drip, swallowed mucus, or intense coughing could lead to vomiting, and mucus will likely be present in the vomit.

A respiratory infection, allergies, severe coughing, excessive crying, and excessive stomach mucus can all lead to your toddler vomiting mucus or phlegm.

While vomiting mucus is not an emergency, prolonged vomiting can rapidly lead to dehydration. 

WebMD advises:

“If your sick child shows signs of dehydration, give fluids called oral rehydration solutions… pediatricians recommend oral rehydration solutions such as Ceralyte, Infalyte, or Pedialyte.”

Toddler Throwing Up Mucus: 5 Common Causes & What To Do

While seeing mucus in a child’s vomit can be alarming to parents, it’s not uncommon.

There are many reasons why a toddler may throw up mucus, and most of them aren’t medically severe.

Keep in mind that consulting your child’s pediatrician is the best way to ensure their health and safety.  

1. Respiratory Infection

Congestion is one of the most common symptoms of a respiratory infection.

Many toddlers don’t understand how to expel excess mucus and instead swallow it.

Swallowed mucus and postnasal drip can upset little ones’ stomachs and make them nauseous.

You may see your toddler throwing up clear mucus, or mucus may be mixed with other stomach contents.

How To Help Your Child

  • Use a suction bulb or nasal aspirator to remove mucus from the nose.
  • Keep your child hydrated to help thin the mucus.

2. Seasonal Allergies

Allergens like dust and pollen cause the body to produce histamines that dilate the nasal cells, ramping up the production of mucus.

This means that your child is likely to have postnasal drip where the mucus drains from the nasal passage into the throat.

Both the excessive amounts of phlegm and the feeling of the drip can cause nausea and vomiting. It is very likely that mucus will be visible in the vomit.

How To Help Your Child

  • Allergy medications meant for children grant the appropriate dosage of histamine-blocking components and offer relief from symptoms like congestion, cough, and runny nose.
  • Make sure your child is drinking plenty of water to help thin the mucus and reduce nausea associated with drainage. 

3. Severe Coughing Fit

When the body produces excess mucus, mucus can accumulate in the lungs. Coughing is how the body excretes that mucus.

When a coughing attack occurs, it can cause vomiting. You’re likely to see mucus from the lungs, throat, and stomach mixed in. 

How To Help Your Child

  • Help your child take deep breaths to regulate their body.
  • Have your toddler drink water to help lubricate the throat and ease any itching or dryness that could cause another attack. 

4. Prolonged Crying

When children cry for an extended period of time, they can get so worked up that vomiting is the end result.

This often happened with my youngest child, and yes, there was often mucus within the vomit (and all over his face, hands, hair, clothes — you name it!).

Since young children don’t typically know how to blow their nose or cough up the mucus, it drains down their throat into their stomachs.

So, when a child throws up from crying, there’s a good chance that mucus will be present in the vomit. 

How To Help Your Child

  • Help your child calm down and soothe themselves.
  • Employ breathing techniques, talk through their feelings, and address the issue at hand.
  • Work to remove excess mucus by using suction or having the child expel it through the nose. 

5. Excessive Stomach Mucus

Mucus forms the protective lining in the stomach that prevents ulcerations from stomach acids.

Just because something is good doesn’t mean it can live in an overabundance. When excess mucus exists in the stomach, it causes upset. 

How To Help Your Child

  • Start by avoiding foods like dairy, sugar, and greasy foods including fatty meats that can aggravate symptoms.
  • Help your child keep a consistent physical activity routine to regulate body function. 
  • Have them hydrate consistently and prioritize water intake.
A sick little boy lying in bed holding on to a stuffed bunny rabbit.

When To Be Concerned About Mucus in Your Child’s Vomit

A toddler throwing up mucus is not necessarily a cause for concern in and of itself.

However, when partnered with other symptoms such as blood in the vomit, dehydration, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or not keeping down liquids, mucus in the vomit can be indicative of a more serious issue.

Seeing a pediatrician is the best course of action in this case.

Phlegm vs. Mucus

Is your toddler vomiting phlegm or mucus?

Phlegm and mucus are terms often used interchangeably, but they have slight differences in their composition and where they are produced in the body.

Mucus

  • Production Location: Mucus is a slippery, slimy substance produced by mucous membranes that line various parts of the body, including the nose, throat, lungs, stomach, and intestines.
  • Function: It serves as a protective barrier, trapping foreign particles (like dust or bacteria) and preventing them from entering the body’s sensitive tissues. It also helps to keep these tissues moist and prevents them from drying out.
  • Appearance: In its natural state, mucus is clear and somewhat viscous.

Phlegm

  • Production Location: Phlegm is a thicker, more viscous form of mucus that is specifically produced in the lower respiratory tract, primarily the bronchi and lungs.
  • Function: Like mucus, phlegm helps to trap and eliminate foreign particles from the respiratory system. It also assists in preventing irritation and inflammation of the airways.
  • Appearance: Phlegm can range in color from clear to yellow, green, or even brown. Its coloration can provide information about the underlying condition (for example, green or yellow phlegm may indicate an infection).

Toddlers can produce both mucus and phlegm, especially when they have a cold or respiratory illness and both may appear in vomit.

The presence of thicker, colored secretions (phlegm) may suggest a more significant respiratory issue compared to clear, runny nasal secretions (mucus).

However, the color of mucus or phlegm alone is not always a reliable indicator of the severity of an illness.

Other symptoms and a healthcare professional’s evaluation are crucial in determining the appropriate course of action.

Milk’s Impact on Mucus Production

The belief that milk increases mucus production is a common misconception that is not backed by scientific research.

While some individuals may experience a temporary sensation of increased mucus after consuming dairy products, this is likely due to the texture of milk rather than an actual increase in mucus production. 

Milk is not known to stimulate the body to produce more mucus.

How To Relieve Congestion in Toddlers

There are many ways to help relieve your child’s congestion. We’ve listed a few of the most popular methods below. 

Age Appropriate Congestion and Allergy Medications

Cold and allergy medications typically contain two components focused on relieving congestion and nasal irritation: antihistamines and decongestants.

  • Decongestants reduce the swelling of blood vessels in the nasal cavity, which helps to open airways.
  • Antihistamines decrease mucus production.

So, administering cold and allergy medications made for children in accordance with product dosing recommendations can relieve your child’s symptoms medicinally.

Using a Humidifier 

Contrary to popular belief, humidifiers are better than dehumidifiers at easing congestion.

By adding moisture to the air, humidifiers help thin out mucus and keep inflammation at bay.

These machines range in price and size (this one runs silently and is quite affordable — I use it myself!).

Steam from a shower, simmer pot, or facial steamer achieves the same effect at a cheaper cost. 

Water

Hydration is vital to any illness, especially those involving congestion.

Water improves many of the body’s functions including fluid balance and toxin removal.

In addition, water loosens and thins the mucus, making it easier to remove. 

Vapor Rub and Vapor Tablets

Vapor rubs and tablets work much like a placebo.

While they don’t actually relieve nasal congestion, the aromas can trick the brain into thinking it’s breathing easier.

However, many vapor rubs are not safe for children under two

On the other hand, using vapor tablets is typically safe so long as they stay out of reach of your child.

Tablets are dissolved in a shower or simmer pot to release the same aroma as a vapor rub. Vapor tablets are a great non-topical alternative.

Nasal Irrigation

Depending on your child’s age, you could use a suction bulb, manual nasal aspirator, or electric nasal aspirator to remove gunk from the nose.

Suction bulbs and manual aspirators are recommended for children under the age of one. 

Home Remedies for Vomiting Child

Watching your child suffer from any illness is heartbreaking, but you’re not entirely powerless in that situation.

Here are a few home remedies to help your vomiting child. 

Ginger

Ginger has long been used as a natural anti-nausea treatment among holistic families.

Ginger contains gingerols and shogaols that work as an anti-inflammatory. In turn, these chemicals reduce nausea and intestinal pains.

Ginger is more effective in reducing these symptoms when taken in small daily doses over time. These doses can range from 0.5-1.5 grams per day.

It should be noted that children who suffer from diabetes, hemophilia, low body weight, or high blood pressure should not use ginger. 

Peppermint

The smell of peppermint has been shown to reduce nausea in some cases.

Add peppermint to your wax warmer or aromatherapy machine to spread the scent around your home.

Keep in mind that only the scent has been studied for efficacy. Ingesting peppermint teas, oils, and pills has not been as thoroughly examined. 

Clear Fluids

Consuming clear fluids is the best place to start when it comes to an upset stomach. Hydration plays a vital role in reducing nausea and combating illness.

Water, electrolyte drinks, ginger ale, and even Sprite have been shown to help an aching tummy. 

BRAT Diet

Eating foods that are gentle on the stomach and gastrointestinal tract can assist in reducing nausea and preventing vomiting.

Feeling empty or eating foods that are heavy can worsen existing stomach issues.

The BRAT diet is a great way to ensure that you’re gentle on your tummy. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.

The BRAT diet is no longer recommended by most healthcare professionals because it does not provide adequate vitamins/minerals.

However, it is still known as a bland diet to calm the stomach, which is useful.

– Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN