How To Stop Nausea Without Medications

Management of a vomiting patient is typically an unpleasant experience for any provider.  Even if the sight, smell, or sound produced by someone vomiting does not bother you, there is often a particularly foul clean-up process that must occur after treatment has concluded.  However, there is a little-known trick that you can use to stop nausea quickly, safely and on the cheap.

How To Stop Nausea Without Medications

The next time you encounter a patient who complains that they are nauseated, instead of reaching for your medication bag, grab your IV kit.  Of course, if you enjoy having a clean truck as much as I do, give your patient an emesis basin, convenience bag, or other (disposable) container first.  Next, grab an alcohol prep pad, tear it open, and instruct your patient to hold it about an inch under their nose.  Coach the patients breathing, instructing them to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth deeply (for no longer than one minute at a time).  This technique of isopropyl alcohol aromatherapy has been shown to reduce nausea, and best of all, it appears to be perfectly safe!

Can an alcohol prep pad actually stop nausea?

Will this actually STOP nausea? Maybe.  Can it reduce nausea? According to a randomized controlled trial published in 2016, by Beadle et al., it can.¹ In fact,  inhaled isopropyl alcohol reduced the patient reported median nausea score by about half, compared to placebo, which had no notable effect on reducing nausea.  Take note that this study only examined the efficacy of the inhaled alcohol for a period of 10 minutes, so the duration of action has not been established.

Even though this may not be a definitive treatment for nausea, it is likely to buy you, the provider, a little bit of time.  Prior to writing this article, I decided to conduct a highly scientific (sarcasm) Twitter poll, which is pictured below.


The object of the poll was to ascertain the general opinion of the prep pad technique, evidence aside.  The resounding majority of respondents indicated that they have never tried the technique, and only 10% did not feel that it was effective.

At the end of the day, evidence supports the use of the technique, and with the cost of an alcohol prep pad coming in at about one cent, what do you have to lose?  Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work.  If it does work, however, you may save yourself quite a bit of cleanup, and improve your patient’s day.

Key Takeaway

  • When a patient complains of nausea, try isopropyl alcohol inhalation as an initial treatment.  It may give you time to prepare anti-emetic medications for administration if necessary.


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¹Beadle KL, Helbling AR, Love SL, April MD, Hunter CJ. Isopropyl Alcohol Nasal Inhalation for Nausea in the Emergency Department: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Annals of emergency medicine. 2016 Jul [accessed 2017 Apr 24].

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