Dry Heaving: What Causes You to Feel Like Vomiting but Nothing Comes Out?

What is Dry Heaving?

Do you know what is dry heaving? What causes you to feel like vomiting, but nothing comes out? Dry heaving, also known as retching, is basically a vomit-like feeling without any substance or vomit coming out. Dry heaving occurs when one tries to vomit. The airway shuts off while the diaphragm contracts. Sometimes dry heaving is accompanied by nausea. One may end up vomiting after dry heaving, but this is not always necessary. Dry heaving is generally temporary and treatable if its cause is appropriately diagnosed. With the help of the right lifestyle changes, medications and home remedies, dry heaving can be effectively kept at bay.

What is Dry Heaving?

What Causes Dry Heaving?

A combination of closed off airway and diaphragm contractions occurs during dry heaves. It triggers a vomiting-like sensation, but unlike during real vomiting, nothing comes out. Certain behaviours, conditions and other factors give rise to dry heaving and when treated can considerably reduce dry heaving. These are:

Dry Heaving Caused by Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Symptoms of heart burn or acid reflux arise as a result of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Partially digested foods get regurgitated and cause discomfort while swallowing or breathing along with other symptoms. This in turn leads to dry heaving or feeling like vomiting but nothing comes out in some people.

Exercise: High intensity workouts can cause one’s diaphragm to contract and lead to dry heaving or give rise to a feeling like vomiting but nothing comes out. Dry heaving can also result from exercising on a full stomach.

Medication: Nausea and vomiting are triggered by certain anxiety and depression medication which can result in dry heaves or cause vomiting like sensation but nothing comes out.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption Can Cause Dry Heaving: Drinking large amounts of alcohol can give rise to dry heaving or vomiting. Eating while drinking alcohol may help to prevent dry heaving.

Pregnancy: During early pregnancy, many women experience dry heaving, morning sickness and nausea.

Other Conditions That Can Cause Dry Heaving: Other conditions that may cause dry heaving illness are severe kidney or liver problems, infections, pancreatitis and anxiety.

What are the Symptoms of Dry Heaving?

Bloody stool or vomit, blood in urine, little or no urine, breathing problem, increased heart rate, severe chest ache, abdominal or muscle pain, extreme muscle weakness, loss of appetite, fatigue and dizziness are some symptoms which occur with dry heaving. It is important to let the doctor know about one and all of these symptoms, even if they seem unrelated, for determining the right cause and treatment.

What are the Home Remedies for Dry Heaving?

The following home remedies can act as an effective first line treatment for dry heaving:

  • Drinking chicken soup or other broth-based foods.
  • Consuming plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Eating saltines, toast, rice and other easily digestible foods when feeling nauseated.
  • Eating banana in the morning can be an effective home remedy for dry heaving or help deal with vomiting like sensation but nothing comes out.
  • In case one vomits, staying hydrated is very important for them. No food should be consumed until the nausea fades away.
  • Avoiding lying down on a full stomach.
  • One must rest when feeling nauseated while exercising to avoid the feel like vomiting but nothing comes out.
  • Avoiding edibles like spicy and fatty foods, chocolates, and beverages like caffeine and alcohol as these may cause acid reflux and lead to dry heaving.

What are the Treatments for Dry Heaving?

If home remedies do not prove helpful in bringing relief from dry heaving or feeling like vomiting but nothing comes out then one should seek medical treatment to determine the cause of the problem.

The doctor may prescribe over-the counter (OCT) drugs like anti-nausea medications, anti-emetics or Dimenhydrinate. Anti-emetics are drugs that work by restricting certain substances in the body that trigger nausea. Dimenhydrinate or Dramamine is a motion sickness medication that relieves nausea. Nausea leads to dry heaving and so taking these medications helps stop dry heaving too.

One should always consult a doctor before taking OTC medications for dry heaving. These drugs can have minor side effects like constipation and dry mouth. They can also worsen other medical conditions like high blood pressure and glaucoma. These medications should not be administered to children younger than 12 years.

How Can Dry Heaving be Prevented?

Some simple lifestyle changes can help prevent dry heaving and these are:

  • Managing stress.
  • Eating smaller meals throughout the day, especially during pregnancy.
  • Drinking adequate water and staying well hydrated.
  • Avoiding exercising on full stomach.
  • Getting enough sleep and rest.
  • Decreasing or stopping alcohol consumption.
  • Avoiding the consumption of alcohol on an empty stomach can help prevent the feeling of vomiting but nothing comes out.


Generally, dry heaving is a short term ailment that can be treated successfully with minor treatments and home remedies. Persistent dry heaving can signal an underlying medical condition and thus one should seek medical help right away if the symptoms don’t improve for a long time

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 8, 2019

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