Treating Food Poisoning

Woman vomiting into the toilet bowl

Food poisoning, or food borne illness, is a painful condition caused by eating contaminated food. Depending on the type and severity of food poisoning, the symptoms can range from moderate to severe; although in many cases it can be treated at home or with minor help from a doctor, it can be life-threatening, so consult a medical professional.

The type and source of infection – bacterial or viral, and which strains, for example – may affect the course of treatment. In most cases, however, the symptoms last no more than a few days to a week. Regardless of the type or severity, the most important part of treating this illness is maintaining hydration: the vomiting and diarrhea that are typical of food poisoning, along with possible sweating, cause the body to lose water along with important minerals and electrolytes, causing dehydration. These fluids need to be replenished, but it can be hard to keep them down when ill, so taking small sips at regular intervals is important. If vomiting and indigestion last long enough, you may need to be hospitalized to receive fluids through an IV.

If the cause of your food poisoning is bacterial, your doctor may be able to prescribe antibiotics. For a strain like listeria, this will most likely require hospitalization, but some forms can be taken orally at home. Not all bacterial strains are able to be treated with antibiotics, however.

You may be tempted to take an anti-diarrheal or anti-nausea medication such as immodium or pepto-bismol, and they may be helpful, but you should talk to your doctor first before taking them. Over the counter pain medication like ibuprofen may be able to ease pain and other symptoms.

Once you’re able to eat solid foods, stick to soft, bland foods like saltine crackers, plain white rice or bread, and bananas. Avoid anything fried, spicy, or sweetened.

If you suspect food poisoning, call your doctor right away so they can assess if home treatment is enough, or if more serious medical attention is needed.

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