Nausea Remedies – hints and tips for managing nausea
Nausea and vomiting can be unwelcome and unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment. Nausea from chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery can be a debilitating condition to deal with. It isn’t just ‘feeling a little bit ill’, it’s so much more than that. Nausea can come in waves, cause cold sweats, the feeling you could be sick just from opening your mouth to speak, sitting in a car, walking into a supermarket or along the high street. It can affect your quality of life in so many ways, it can alter your mood, add to fatigue and stress and make you reluctant to stick to your treatment schedule. It’s incredibly difficult to control and can have a significant impact on the day-to-day life of the person experiencing the condition.
Not everyone experiences nausea and vomiting during cancer treatment – it will depend on the treatment you have and the drugs you receive together with the dosage. There are a wide range of anti-nausea medicines available, and if you are struggling with sickness, it’s important to let your medical team know, so that they can prescribe you with anti-sickness medicine.
There are also some positive steps you can take to help ease your nausea. We’ve put together a list of things you can do to reduce the impact nausea and vomiting has. Some of these suggestions are backed by scientific evidence and some only have anecdotal evidence, but they’ve all been recommended by other cancer patients. Some suggestions may contradict each other, for example many people recommend drinking cold liquids, whilst others suggest warm drinks, but we have listed all suggestions here, so that you can try to find something that works for you.
It is incredibly important to stay hydrated when suffering from nausea but the simple task of just drinking water can become a challenge. At points the nausea can become so unbearable that drinking anything at all can be a distressing experience.
Many people find cold drinks more bearable than hot drinks. You could try drinking clear liquids, unsweetened fruit juices or ice-cold water. It can also help to suck on ice, ice lollies (especially orange flavoured) or fruit which has been frozen in segments such as melon or oranges to help with hydration if drinking is triggering feelings of nausea.
Surprisingly, adding acidic foods such as lemons can also help in either warm or cold water.
If you can tolerate hot drinks, many people recommend peppermint or ginger tea. Chamomile tea is also a popular folk remedy used for nausea. It has a sedative effect that may help you to sleep. A warm cup of soup or broth to sip has also been recommended to ease nausea plus soup has a calorie value which can be extremely helpful for those having trouble getting the necessary nutrients into their bodies.
Many people suggest avoiding carbonated drinks if you are suffering from nausea, because they can cause bloating and make the nausea worse, but lots of cancer patients have told us the opposite – they actually find fizzy drinks, particularly fizzy water, surprisingly refreshing. Ginger beer is also a popular drink for easing nausea and salty liquids, such as those found in electrolyte replacement sports drinks have also been recommended to us for easing nausea.
Drinking too much may worsen nausea by making your stomach feel uncomfortably full. Avoid filling your stomach with a large amount of liquid before eating, instead try sipping small amounts of fluids regularly throughout the day, taking small, slow sips rather than large intakes in one go as a sudden influx of liquids could have the opposite effect and cause you to become extremely nauseous.
The best piece of advice when it comes to food is to eat whatever appeals to you however, many people avoid fried foods, fatty foods including rich and creamy sauces, dairy products like cheese and milk, meat and foods high in fibre because they’re harder to digest. Bland foods tend to be better tolerated as foods with strong flavours might unsettle the stomach further. The BRAT diet is often recommended which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Avoid preparing food when you are feeling sick. Try to avoid eating your favourite foods when you have nausea because if you eat foods you like when you are nauseated, you could find them unappealing when treatment is over because you associated them with feeling sick.
Strong smells can trigger nausea so pay attention to what smells trigger nausea for you and limit your exposure to these smells. Try to avoid cooking and eating spicy foods or anything with strong tastes and flavours. Eating food cold or at room temperature can help to decrease its smell and taste. Research suggests that protein rich foods may fight off nausea better than meals that are high in carbohydrates or fat.
Eating small portions throughout the day can help instead of eating fewer, larger meals. Small portions of high calorie foods that are easy to eat can be beneficial, for instance; pudding, ice cream, yogurt, and milkshakes. You could also try to use butter, oils, syrups, sauces, and cream in foods to raise calorie intake and avoid low-fat foods unless fats upset your stomach or cause other problems. Foods that cause gas, like vegetables and beans can make nausea worse.
Try not to skip meals. If your stomach is empty it can make your nausea worse. Many people tell us that eating a light meal a few hours before treatment can also help, but don’t eat just before treatment.
If you feel queasy when you first wake up, keep a box of crackers to hand and eat a few before getting out of bed. Or try having a high-protein snack such as lean meat before going to bed as protein stays in your stomach longer than other foods.
Both ginger and mint products are famous the world over for helping to manage nausea and sickness. They can be taken in a wide range of formats from capsules to teas through to chewy sweets. We have a blog post that looks specifically at the benefits of ginger for easing nausea.
Several spices are popular home remedies often recommended to combat nausea. Rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, parsley, cinnamon, fennel powder and cinnamon all have soothing scents that can help to keep nausea from occurring while eating.
Tart or sour foods may also be easier to keep down, unless you have mouth sores in which case it’s best to avoid sour flavours. Surprisingly, acidic foods such as lemons and oranges can help, let’s face it, when you’re suffering from nausea you want to try whatever you can to ease it! Citrussy smells, whether from a freshly sliced lemon or lemon or lime essential oils have also been noted to help reduce feelings of nausea.
Our final tips on eating are to eat slowly and chew your food well in order to aid digestion. Rest after eating, but don't lie flat for a couple of hours – keep your head higher than your feet because when you lie flat, gastric juices may rise and increase feelings of nausea and overall discomfort
Posture and Clothing
Some everyday activities and postures such as bending forward and crunching your stomach can increase nausea as it compresses the area and makes you less comfortable in general. Sitting upright on the other hand can support digestion and may help nausea to pass.
When you’re nauseous, try reclining with your upper body elevated. Too much movement can make nausea worse, especially if it’s sudden or intense so try to move around as little as possible. Try wearing loose-fitting clothing and distracting yourself with other activities.
Fresh Air and Body Temperature
Opening a window or going outside can sometimes help to reduce feelings of nausea although it’s not clear why. It may get rid of sickening odours, or simply help you focus on something other than the nausea.
You could also try sitting in front of a fan or window at the first sign of nausea, especially if you’re overheated. Alternatively some people tell us that placing a cool compress on the back of their neck for several minutes can be soothing. This will help decrease your body temperature, as being too hot may cause nausea.
We all know that exercise is good for us and can help to keep us active. When suffering from nausea, exercise may be the last thing we want to do but aerobic exercise and yoga can be particularly helpful ways to reduce nausea in some individuals. It distracts us from the constant thought of feeling sick and it also helps us to regulate our breathing which in itself can ease the symptoms.
There is some evidence to suggest that exercise as well as other integrative therapies can help to control nausea. Evidence also suggests that stress reduction interventions such as yoga have a positive role to play in complementing conventional antiemetics to manage chemotherapy-related nausea.
Using relaxation techniques can also help to reduce feelings of nausea. Examples include meditation and deep breathing.
Meditation is the practice of focusing and calming the mind. It’s a type of relaxation technique that may be especially beneficial for nausea caused by stress and anxiety but is surely worth a try for cancer related nausea too.
Deep breathing is a meditation technique, but you can also do it on your own to quell stress-related nausea. Research has shown that deep breaths taken at a slow and steady pace can help to ease feelings of nausea. Breathe in slowly through your nose, hold your breath for three seconds, and slowly breathe out. Repeat several times until nausea subsides. You might want to take a look at our video with Oliver James, a body-led psychotherapist who shares with us the Magical 2:1 breath for easing nausea.
Relaxing your muscles may also help relieve nausea. A recent review found that progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) where you tense and relax your muscles in a continuous sequence as a way to achieve physical and mental relaxation, is an effective way to reduce the severity of nausea resulting from chemotherapy.
Another way to relieve muscle tension is through massage. In one study, a group of chemotherapy patients were given a 20-minute lower arm or lower leg massage during their treatment. Compared to those given no massage, the massaged participants were about 24% less likely to get nauseous afterwards.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) complementary therapies may be helpful for people experiencing chemotherapy-related nausea. These methods may work by helping you feel relaxed, distracting you from what’s going on, helping you feel in control and making you feel less helpless about the situation:
biofeedback (which helps people reach a state of relaxation)
guided imagery (a type of meditation)
It’s a good idea to speak to your medical team if you're interested in trying any of these treatments as they may be able to recommend a practitioner who works with people undergoing cancer treatments.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese technique in which very thin needles are put into the skin. There are a number of different acupuncture techniques, including some that use pressure rather than needles (acupressure). Both techniques stimulate nerve fibres, which transmit signals to the brain and spinal cord. These signals are thought to have the ability to decrease nausea.
The pressure point for nausea is on your inner wrist, about two and a half inches down, in between two large tendons. To ease nausea, press on this pressure point in a circular motion for a few minutes. Alternatively many people wear nausea bands to help apply continuous pressure or electronic wrist bands.
A recent review reports that acupuncture and acupressure reduce the risk of developing nausea after an operation by 28–75%.
Studies have also shown that both acupuncture and accupressure are as effective as anti-nausea medications at reducing symptoms, with virtually no negative side effects.
Other reviews report that acupressure lowers the severity of nausea and the risk of developing it after chemotherapy.
Another complimentary therapy that can help relieve nausea is aromatherapy. A variety of different essential oils have been recommended for easing nausea including peppermint, spearmint, lemon, lime, grapefruit, bergamot, lavender, geranium, ginger, fennel, chamomile, cardamom and clove.
Peppermint aromatherapy has been found to be particularly effective in helping to reduce nausea. One study showed that peppermint aromatherapy was effective at reducing nausea in 57% of cases. A further study, showed that using an inhaler containing peppermint essential oil at the onset of nausea reduced symptoms within two minutes of treatment in 44% of cases.
Vitamin B6 is increasingly recommended to help with feelings of nausea. Studies have shown that supplements of vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, successfully reduce nausea. Most of these studies focus on nausea during pregnancy, but if you are suffering from cancer related nausea, this might be worth a try. However, it’s always important to discuss taking any supplements with your medical team.
This is a new one for us, but if you are extremely nauseous, sniffing the fumes of isopropyl alcohol has been proven to reduce feelings of nausea. Take a cap full of rubbing alcohol and smell it. Do NOT snort it! Do NOT drink it! But take a few sniffs of the fumes. It will immediately settle your nausea. This technique does not work for everyone, but for those whom it works, it does work extremely well.
Summary of Hints and Tips of things to try and things to avoid…
💙Stay hydrated by drinking small sips of a cold drink – little and often is the key.
💙Some people have found fizzy drinks helpful – fizzy water or ginger beer for example.
💙Eat plain, bland foods – again, little and often will help.
💙Eat foods or sweets containing ginger or try to drink herbal teas (ginger or peppermint are best).
💙Get regular fresh air or open a window for air circulation.
💙Relax and / or exercise as these have been proven to help ease nausea.
💙Complimentary therapies may be helpful for people experiencing chemotherapy related nausea.
💙Evidence suggests that accupressure is an effective way of reducing nausea.
💙Vitamin B6 may help to ease nausea.
💙Rubbing alcohol is surprisingly effective in reducing the symptoms of nausea.
💙Get plenty of rest, nausea is exhausting.
💙Tell those close to you that you’re suffering from nausea and cannot function 100% as usual.
💙Ask for help if you are struggling.
💙Distract yourself with a book, film or something on television.
💙Avoid eating large or greasy meals.
💙Avoid cooking or eating strong smelling foods.
💙Avoid going without food completely – if you stop eating altogether it could cause your blood sugar to dip and make you feel worse.
💙Avoid lying down straight after eating and drinking.
💙Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing – particularly around the abdomen.
💙Avoid over exertion through strenuous exercise.
💙Avoid bending forward and crunching your stomach.
Nausea can be an unpleasant experience, however, symptoms can be managed using anti-nausea medication. If you are experiencing nausea and vomiting it’s important to speak to your medical team and to keep on track with your anti-nausea medication.
There are also a wide variety of alternative methods that you can try. It's a good idea to experiment with different methods as the experience of nausea can vary from person to person.
CancerPal has a wide range of products that have been recommended to help ease nausea in our Online MarketPlace.