Food poisoning overview
As anyone who’s had a bad case of food poisoning can testify, it is an experience so thoroughly awful that you wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy.
Not only does everything you’ve eaten for the last 24 hour seem to want to escape out of both ends of your body simultaneously, but the cramps and pain you experience can make you want to crawl into a hole and die.
The good news is that food poisoning is rarely life-threatening. In most case s, it will pass within 24 hours, leaving you good as new.
The bad news is that once it’s started, there’s no real way to put the brakes on it until it has run its course.
The following tips, however, may help minimize your discomfort and shorten the duration of your symptoms.
1. Replace your body’s fluids
If your stomach will tolerate it, be sure to keep taking liquids, especially if you have diarrhea.
“Sometimes people feel that if they drink more, they’ll throw up more or have more diarrhea.”
However, these illnesses require acute hydration. Even if you do have a little more diarrhea, you’ll still be ahead of the game if you’ve been drinking more.
Also, you will feel worse if you are dehydrated. You can take gelatin, decaffeinated soda, decaffeinated tea with sugar, or water.
2. Avoid rich or spicy foods
When your stomach is feeling irritated, eating fatty or highly seasoned foods may send you back to the toilet bowl.
If you feel hungry, it’s probably best to stick with clear liquid, plain toast, mashed potato, bananas, or other bland foods.
3. Go with the flow literally
If you’ve been poisoned by contaminated food and your stomach is reacting by having diarrhea or vomiting, you can trust your body’s impulses. “Don’t run out and buy anti-diarrhea medication.”
If there’s something in your system, you may feel better sooner if you let it out. The same goes for vomiting, wait a while before you take anything orally.
Your stomach doesn’t want anything more down there. If you give it a chance to rest, it will usually take care of itself.
4. Be careful with pain medications
Some people make the mistake of taking prescription or over-the-counter pain medications to reduce the discomfort of internal cramps.
“The side effect of many of these drugs is to irritate the stomach or the gastrointestinal tract.”
The one exception is acetaminophen, says David Posner, M.D. A gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Drugs containing aspirin or ibuprofen are definitely out when your stomach is irritating.
5. Try hot-water bottle
One of the things that may help cramps is a hot-water bottle place on the stomach, according to David Posner. “Make sure it’s not too hot.”
6. Treat food poisoning like stomach flu
Just like with the stomach flu, there’s really not a whole lot you can do, except to be good to yourself and wait it out.
Cancel your appointments, rest, take it easy and take solace in the fact that it’s a guarantee that it will pass, most likely within 24 hours.
7. Replace your potassium
Vomiting and diarrhea may lead to a depletion in your body’s supply of potassium, which may also leave you feeling even worse.
Twenty-four hours after your symptoms started (and hopefully when you’re feeling a bit better), a sports drink or a banana “may perk you up.”
8. Report food poisoning to the health department
If you were the only person affected by food that may have been contaminated, reporting your condition may not be necessary.
However, If you were one of a group of people who ate at a restaurant or other food establishment and more than one of you became ill, tell the restaurant, your physician, or your local health department.
If it turns out to be an infection, such as dysentery, the health department may want to track it down.
When to see your doctor for food poisoning
In rare instances, food poisoning may be downright dangerous. It’s time to head for the doctor or the emergency room if you are experiencing severe cramps, you are weak or dizzy, or you can’t keep anything at all down.
If you have a fever of over 102, if you faint, if the symptoms persist longer than 48 hours, or if you see any blood in your stool or vomits.
Other symptoms that signal an emergency are paralysis, double vision, breathlessness, or weakness in a limb.
Preventing food poisoning is the best medicine
The best way to treat food poisoning is to avoid getting it in the first place.
Although you can’t control the conditions in the restaurants you patronize, you can take several precautions in your own homes.
Mixed foods, such as potato salads, creamy coleslaw’s, and other foods containing dairy products, are likely to breed bacteria.
Especially if they are not kept well refrigerated or if they get warm and are later refrigerated. Summer picnics are notorious for such conditions.
Another problem arises at holiday times when people tend to thaw and stuff turkeys or roasts hours before guests arrive. Leaving them out of the refrigerator for long periods of time.
“Make sure that perishables are kept cold.” Cook chicken, pork, and beef very thoroughly, and wash hands and utensils in very hot water and soap after using them to cut meat.