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What are Antiemetics?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Antiemetics, sometimes spelled anti-emetics, refer to many different medications that can either reduce nausea or stop people from throwing up. They come in a variety of strengths and drug types and they have many different uses. The simple motion sickness pills a person buys over the counter are antiemetics, but for more serious nausea there are many prescription pills or medications that can be given by an anesthetist only, to prevent nausea. These medications can also be viewed as the opposite of emetics, which are drugs used to induce vomiting.

There are many types of over the counter antiemetics and many of these are antihistamines. Common ones include diphenhydramine or Benadryl®. Diphenhydramine is frequently used to treat cases of motion sickness. Another fairly common over the counter antiemetic is meclizine, which may be used to treat motion sickness caused by conditions like labyrinthitis, which affects the ears and creates dizziness. While these drugs may work effectively, they also have the disadvantage of making many people sleepy, but of course many people would prefer to sleep than to feel chronically nauseous.

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There are prescription antihistamines that might be used as antiemetics, and there are also other medications that are effective. Some benzodiazepines, known as tranquilizers, have been shown to have anti-nausea effects. Alternately, when nausea needs to be stopped quickly, anti-psychotics like prochlorperazine (compazine®) might be used instead. Compazine® is regularly used in hospitals when people have severe vomiting, but it does cause sedation, and continued use risks all of the side effects associated with typical anti-psychotic medications.

There are some specific reasons why antiemetics are prescribed for certain types of treatment. In chemotherapy, nausea occurs frequently, both during administration of chemo and afterwards. Patients might receive an anti-nauseas medication with their treatment and then use one at home, not always to great effect. Some very effective anti-nausea drugs, like cannabis, are either illegal or very difficult to obtain legally, depending upon where people live. Many may find help with easier to obtain medications that can come in pills, patches, or suppositories.

During surgeries, many forms of anesthesia have nausea as a side effect. Anesthesiologists frequently give an antiemetic too, to prevent vomiting and aspiration during a procedure and to make recovery easier. One of the most commonly used is the medication Versed® but others like dolasetron might be preferred.

There are antiemetics that don’t have a sedating effect, and might be useful for some forms of nausea. One common one is sold in lots of pharmacies and is called Emetrol®. Its active ingredient is phosphoric acid, the same ingredient in many forms of cola. Those who are attempting to stop a child vomiting could try giving small sips of cola once an hour to see if that works. There are caffeine free versions of cola available in many brands.

For centuries women have used ginger as an antiemetic during pregnancy, and studies in 2008 confirmed what many women have known for years. Ginger is actually fairly effective in reducing morning sickness. It can be taken either baked in foods or used in things like tea. In fact, as of 2009, the benefits of ginger have begun to be studied in people undergoing chemotherapy, and it appears that as an adjunct therapy, it may be helpful to people and more effectively reduce the side effects of chemo.

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