Causes of Nausea
The causes of nausea can be extremely varied. It is important to learn how to identify your source of nausea before you begin to treat your nausea. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.– Chef Ryan Callahan
Let’s begin by thinking about what can cause nausea. Nausea can be induced by many things, from an imbalance in the inner ear (think spinning around in circles too fast) to the smell of something rotten (hot garbage). Nausea can even be induced by the thought of something gross or the sight of something disgusting. Nausea can manifest itself as dizziness or as a full on puke fest. Because this is Cooking for Chemo, we are going to focus on the things that we can control and that are mostly food and eating related.
As I have discussed previously, the intensity of a smell is called pungency. In some people, overly pungent smells can cause nausea. In others, they don’t bother them at all. This is of course because everyone is different. I see this all the time in my Cooking for Chemo classes. We will play the Smell Game, pass around ground cumin and I get to have a good laugh watching everyone’s various reactions to the spice. These reactions range from a genuine excitement to a full-on wrinkled “eww” face.
Identifying Your Causes of Nausea
Nausea affects everyone differently. And what makes it so hard to deal with is the fact that often you will not know where the nausea is coming from. Heck, nausea is a side effect of many, if not all, chemotherapy drugs! So let’s explore how to identify your source of nausea so that we can treat it and avoid it in the future.
1. Specific smells can be the cause of nausea.
Is you nausea induced by a smell like canned tuna? Broccoli? Your spouse’s cologne? Take some time to smell the world around you and document it in a notebook so that you can identify potential offending odors and have them removed entirely. The biggest problem with scents inducing nausea is that they do so from a distance. Unlike metallic tastes, which manifest themselves locally, nausea inducing scents can waft in from a distance and completely remove your appetite.
Follow This Link to Learn How to Play the Smell Game
2. Pungent smells can be the cause of nausea.
Beyond the actual positive or negative aspects of a scent, are you reacting to the strength of the smell? Cumin is a very pungent, and a quite tasty spice. But if you are sensitive to overly pungent foods or smells, it can induce nausea. Keep track of these pungent scents by writing down how you are reacting to them. Omit or avoid them as necessary.
3. Take the correct strength of your nausea medication.
Your doctor will more than likely prescribe an anti-nausea medication. Don’t try to “tough it out!” Just take the medicine. Talk to your doctor about your nausea and more than likely they can prescribe a variety of medications that treat a variety of nausea intensities.
When my mom went through chemotherapy treatments, she had two pills she could take: one for moderate nausea and one emergency pill for severe nausea. In the beginning, she only took the moderate nausea pill, which was fine, until she fainted in the bathroom and almost died. I’m not stressing the seriousness of this nearly enough. Nausea can literally kill you. So take the correct medication for your current situation. Work with your oncology team to identify the correct time to take each medication.
4. Dehydration and hunger can be the cause of nausea.
Drink your fluids! After my mom almost cracked her head open in the bathroom, we had to rush her to the emergency room where it turned out she was extremely dehydrated. A few bags of water later and she was feeling much better. Dehydration is no joke. It can kill you, and it causes all kinds of crazy side effects from inability to move your muscles to full-on hallucinations.
This is the same for hunger as well. Our body tells us when it needs nutrients. We have to eat and drink to stay alive. Because our sense associations are all out of whack, it may be hard to identify that you are hungry and thirsty. Personally, being hungry used to manifest itself as a shakiness in my hands and arms. Now, it manifests itself as nausea and a headache. Your indicators can change. Keep notes and work with your caregiver to identify when you need to eat and drink. My wife knows that I need to eat before I even do.
Causes of Nausea Are Easy to Identify
As you can see, the causes of nausea are easy to identify once you know what to look for. To recap the major causes are: offensive odors, pungency, not taking your medication, and dehydration.
In the next article, we are going to discuss how to combat nausea.