What to Do If You Think You Have Food Poisoning

We usually only hear about food-related illnesses when there’s a major outbreak. But it happens more often than you think. It’s also not typically as serious as it might seem — it’s just extremely unpleasant.

Food poisoning usually isn’t life-threatening. Most people’s symptoms are mild and go away within a few days. But some experience dangerous symptoms that result in hospitalization — or worse.

Here’s how to tell if you have food poisoning, how to treat and recover from your symptoms, and what more severe symptoms might look like.

How to know if you have food poisoning

Food poisoning

Food poisoning | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

Fortunately (and unfortunately), most cases of food poisoning look and feel about the same. So if you’ve been exposed to bad bacteria, your body will let you know.

Common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea.

The greatest health risk people face when experiencing these symptoms — especially young children — is dehydration. But you don’t want to start drinking fluids right away. When symptoms first begin, you’ll feel pretty miserable. But it will get better.

Don’t take an anti-diarrhea medication to ease your symptoms.¬†Your body is trying to get rid of harmful bacteria on purpose. It’s unpleasant, but it’s very important to just let it happen. The worst of your symptoms shouldn’t last that long, and as long as you take the¬†steps below, you should start feeling better within a few days.

After you experience symptoms

Experts recommend that for a few hours after the worst of your symptoms, you should give your stomach a break. Avoid food and beverages and just let your body rest.

Once you’ve let your stomach settle, it’s absolutely essential to stay hydrated. Sports drinks such as Gatorade, which contain electrolytes, can help your body replace what it may have lost due to vomiting or diarrhea. But you can also drink clear sodas or chicken/vegetable broth.

What to eat after food poisoning

Oatmeal with bananas

Oatmeal with bananas | minadezhda/iStock/Getty Images

After you’ve given yourself a little time to recover, you’re probably hungry. At the very least, you know you should eat something, even if you don’t have much of an appetite yet.

You want to eat foods that won’t irritate or overwhelm your stomach. Ginger (in the form of ginger ale or ginger tea) is known to soothe the stomach, but if you feel ready to eat again, you might want to stick with something like:

  • A banana
  • Egg whites
  • Oatmeal or cereal
  • Applesauce
  • Toast
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter.

Avoid spicy foods, caffeine, high-fiber foods, dairy products, fried foods, fatty foods, and fruit juices for at least a few days.

Do you need to see a doctor?

Food poisoning symptoms generally only last 24 to 48 hours. So if it’s been two days and you’re still experiencing symptoms, you should call your doctor.

But if your symptoms are more severe, you shouldn’t wait to seek medical attention. Dizziness, severe stomach cramping, bloody stools, and muscle weakness are not normal food poisoning symptoms. Also contact a professional if you or someone else also experience:

  • A high fever (over 101.5 F)
  • Persistent vomiting that prevents the intake of fluids
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than three days.

It’s always better to see a professional than to wait it out. If you’re in doubt, give your doctor a call. They can tell you what to do next based on your symptoms.

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