Aspiration of vomit
Vomiting can be dangerous if the gastric content gets into the respiratory tract. Under normal circumstances the gag reflex and coughing will prevent this from occurring, however these protective reflexes are compromised in persons under the influences of certain substances such as alcohol or anesthesia. The individual may choke and asphyxiate or suffer an aspiration pneumonia.
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
Prolonged and excessive vomiting will deplete the body of water (dehydration) and may alter the electrolyte status. Gastric vomiting leads to the loss of acid (protons) and chlorine directly. Combined with the resulting alkaline tide, this leads to hypochloremic metabolic alkalosis (low chloride levels together with high HCO3 and CO2 and increased blood pH) and often hypokalemia (potassium depletion). The hypokalemia is an indirect result of the kidney compensating for the loss of acid. With the loss of intake of food the individual may eventually become cachectic. A less frequent occurrence results from a vomiting of intestinal contents, including bile acids and HCO3- which can lead to metabolic acidosis.
Repeated or profuse vomiting may cause erosions to the esophagus or small tears in the esophageal mucosa (Mallory-Weiss tear). This may become apparent if fresh red blood is mixed with vomit after several episodes.
Recurrent vomiting, such as observed in bulimia nervosa, may lead to destruction of the tooth enamel due to the acidity of the vomit. Digestive enzymes can also have a negative effect on oral health, by degrading the tissue of the gums.
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