Your best options for over-the-counter and prescription nausea medications
If you’ve ever accidentally eaten expired food, felt car sick during a trip, or felt your stomach churn after smelling something off-putting, then you’ve probably experienced nausea. Nausea is the queasy sensation you feel before you throw up, and unfortunately, it’s often accompanied by vomiting.
Nausea is a common (and uncomfortable) feeling that people experience for a variety of reasons. It can be caused by a range of factors that include motion sickness, medication, food poisoning and pregnancy. No matter what triggers it, nausea and vomiting (N/V) can make you feel miserable and keep you from doing your daily activities. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can take to provide relief from nausea and get back on track. In this blog post, we'll discuss why nausea happens and cost-effective options for nausea treatment and relief so that you’re better equipped to manage your symptoms when they arise.
What is the most common cause of nausea?
Nausea occurs when the nerve endings in your stomach are irritated (as mentioned above, this can happen due to food poisoning, hormones, acid reflux, medications, alcohol, and a plethora of other reasons). Those nerve endings then stimulate the parts of your brain that control nausea and vomiting. In other words, nausea is your body’s way of trying to protect itself by telling your brain to expel something from your system.
No matter what the cause, nausea - and the vomiting that sometimes accompanies it - can leave you feeling exhausted and miserable. Luckily, there are a number of ways to relieve your nausea symptoms.
What can you do to make nausea go away?
Depending on the cause of your nausea, there are several steps you can take to relieve your symptoms. At-home remedies for nausea relief include aromatherapy (with peppermint oil or lemon oil), acupuncture, herbal teas (peppermint tea, lemon tea, or ginger tea), or even simply avoiding greasy, fatty, or sugary foods. For pregnant women who are dealing with morning sickness, vitamin B6 can also help to relieve nausea symptoms.
You can also opt for over-the-counter nausea medicine. However, some nausea-inducing conditions cannot be treated with at-home or OTC remedies, especially if they’re signs of a more serious illness such as appendicitis, kidney or liver problems, or central nervous system disorders. In these instances, a healthcare professional may suggest a prescription nausea medication.
How does nausea medicine work?
As mentioned above, nausea occurs when nerve endings in your gut send messages to your brain, which then leads to the sensation of nausea or vomiting.
Nausea medications work by interfering with this process - some block receptors in the gut to prevent it from sending signals to the brain, some block neurotransmitters in the brain to prevent them from triggering nausea, and others block the effects of certain chemicals. We’ve listed out different anti-nausea medications and their mechanisms of action below:
Antiemetics: Antiemetics are a type of drug that stops the receptors in your stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) from sending nausea signals to your brain. Antiemetics are generally used to relieve nausea from motion sickness.
Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines belong to a class of drugs known as anxiolytics, which are used to treat anxiety symptoms by blocking certain chemicals in the brain. Nausea that is caused by anxiety or fear can be reduced by benzodiazepines.
Dopamine antagonists: Dopamine is a substance that can stimulate nausea in the brain, so dopamine antagonists prevent dopamine from binding to areas of the brain, which then prevents nausea. These are typically used to treat nausea that is not controlled by other medications.
NK-1 receptor antagonists: NK-1 receptors are receptors in your brain that receive chemicals (some of which can trigger nausea). When patients are treated with chemotherapy, the chemicals in the chemotherapy can bind to the NK-1 receptors and cause nausea, so NK-1 receptor antagonists are often prescribed to treat nausea from chemo treatment.
Olanzapine: Olanzapine, which is normally prescribed as an antipsychotic, is sometimes prescribed off-label as an anti-nausea medication. It blocks dopamine, a hormone that can trigger nausea, from affecting specific areas of the brain, and can be used to help treat chemotherapy nausea as well as nausea in palliative care settings.
Serotonin antagonists: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can trigger nausea in the brain. Serotonin antagonists are able to block the effects of serotonin. Like olanzapine and NK-1 receptor antagonists, serotonin antagonists are typically used to treat chemotherapy nausea.
What is the best OTC medicine for nausea?
There are a range of over-the-counter (OTC) options for nausea and vomiting, many of which also have generic, more affordable counterparts with the same strength and formulation. These include:
Bismuth subsalicylate: More commonly known under its brand name Pepto-Bismol, bismuth subsalicylate kills germs and bacteria in the gut and gastrointestinal tract that can trigger nausea. It should not be administered to children ages 12 and under. Generic bismuth subsalicylate tends to be more affordable than its name-brand counterpart. As of 2023, 16 fluid oz of generic bismuth subsalicylate costs $3.69 at Target, while 16 fluid oz of Pepto-Bismol costs $7.99.
Dimenhydrinate: Dimenhydrinate is an antihistamine that helps with motion sickness and morning sickness nausea. The brand name, Dramamine, is more expensive than generic dimenhydrinate; at CVS, a 12-count pack of 50mg Dramamine tablets costs $9.49, while the generic version costs just $6.49.
Meclizine: Sold as the brand names Bonine and Dramamine Less Drowsy, this and other antihistamines work similarly to dimenhydrinate but have less sleepy side effects. It can alleviate motion sickness but must be taken an hour in advance before effects can be felt. At Walgreens, a 16-count pack of 25mg Dramamine Less Drowsy tablets costs $9.98, while the generic version is priced at $6.49.
Phosphoric acid/dextrose/fructose: Known under its brand name Emetrol, this medication works to calm the stomach. It may have fewer side effects than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and is available in a children’s formulation.
What is the best prescription medicine for nausea?
If at-home remedies or over-the-counter nausea medicine are not alleviating your symptoms, your healthcare provider may suggest prescription medication. Examples of fast-acting prescription nausea medications include:
Ondansetron (generic Zofran): Ondansetron, better known under the brand name Zofran, is a frequently prescribed serotonin antagonist that prevents nausea by blocking serotonin receptors in your brain. It’s effective for food poisoning, viral illnesses, surgery, and chemotherapy. Ondansetron is available both in tablet form and in ODT (orally disintegrating tablet) form. Once taken, it typically begins to relieve nausea within 30 minutes to an hour. Ondansetron is not typically covered by insurance or Medicare plans, but using pharmacy or manufacturer coupons can be a great way to save. If deemed clinically necessary by a healthcare provider, generic ondansetron and ondansetron ODT (generic Zofran ODT) prescriptions are also available on Sesame for as little as $5.
Promethazine (generic Promethegan): Promethazine, also known under the brand names Promethegan and Phenadoz, is an antihistamine that treats nausea, typically within 20-30 minutes of taking it. However, promethazine is prone to abuse, so it is rarely prescribed as the first medication of choice when treating nausea. It is also a controlled substance in its liquid form since it is combined with the opioid codeine. Generic promethazine is covered by most Medicare and insurance plans, but some pharmacy coupons or cash prices may be lower.
Meclizine (generic Antivert): Although it is stronger than its over-the-counter counterpart (Dramamine, Bonine), prescription meclizine is also used to treat nausea. It can also help with vertigo. It takes about an hour to start working. If deemed clinically necessary by a healthcare provider, generic Antivert prescriptions are also available on Sesame for as little as $5.
Metoclopramide (generic Reglan): Also known by its brand name Reglan, metoclopramide is a dopamine receptor antagonist which treats nausea and migraine headaches. Metoclopramide typically begins to work in 30 minutes, so it's best to take it accordingly. The cost for metoclopramide oral tablets (10 mg) is typically around $12 for a supply of 30 tablets.
Prochlorperazine (generic Compazine): Available as the brand Compazine, prochlorperazine is an antipsychotic medication that treats nausea, migraine headaches, and some psychiatric conditions. The cost of prochlorperazine without health insurance is typically around $30.49 for 30 10-mg tablets, but pharmacy coupons and cash prices may be lower.
Scopolamine (generic Transderm Scop): Also known by its brand name Transderm Scop, scopolamine is prescribed as a patch to place behind the ear for the treatment of nausea from motion sickness, anesthesia, and surgery. Once applied, scopolamine patches typically take action to relieve nausea within 4 hours, so it’s best to apply the patch at least 4 hours before you need it. If deemed clinically necessary by a healthcare provider, generic scopolamine patches are also available on Sesame for as little as $5.
What are common side effects of nausea medicine?
The side effects of nausea medicine can vary depending on the type of medicine, its formulation, and its strength. However, common side effects include:
This is not a complete list of side effects. If these effects persist or worsen, or if you experience other symptoms that are otherwise unexplained, you should contact your healthcare provider right away.
When to see a doctor about nausea
Although nausea is common, it can also be an indicator of a more serious problem. If you notice that your nausea is persistent, worsening, or if it’s accompanied by symptoms like blood in your vomit, chest pains, fever, or blurred vision, you should call your healthcare provider immediately.
Looking for a nausea prescription? Good news! Providers on Sesame can write a prescription – or refill an existing one – during a virtual or in-person visit. Depending on the medication, you can arrange for same-day pickup at a pharmacy near you or order the medication to be delivered to your door for just $5. Book an online consultation with a real, licensed provider on Sesame today to determine whether or not nausea medicine is right for you.
Note that all prescriptions are at the discretion of your healthcare provider. Providers on Sesame cannot prescribe controlled substances.
- Nausea and Vomiting Resources (n.d.). mayoclinic.org/symptoms/nausea/resources.
- Terez, Malka. Nausea Medications: OTC, Prescription, and More. khealth.com/learn/medication/nausea-medication.
- What can you take for nausea relief? 28 nausea medications and remedies (n.d.). singlecare.com/blog/nausea-relief-medication-and-home-remedies.