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How to treat food poisoning

When food poisoning strikes you with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, you crave relief fast. But what’s the best way to treat symptoms and recover?

Although food poisoning can be deeply unpleasant, its symptoms usually pass after two or three days, says Daniel Feckoury, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician. While you’re sick, though, it’s important to take proper care of yourself and monitor your illness’ severity.

Staying hydrated and eating simple, bland foods will usually put you on the road to recovery, Dr. Feckoury says.

What causes food poisoning?

Food poisoning can be caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses, Dr. Feckoury says. Foodborne illnesses are often transmitted through poultry, shellfish and prepared produce, but you can become ill from eating other foods too.

“Unfortunately, there can be a lot of culprits,” Dr. Feckoury says.

Food poisoning symptoms aren’t always the same, but they often include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

With so many types of foodborne germs, incubation periods vary in length too. Don’t assume that a bout of illness was caused by the last meal you ate – symptoms may not arise for days or even weeks after you eat contaminated food.

Common foodborne germs include:

  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Norovirus
  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus aureus

If you want to pinpoint what made you sick, talk to your doctor about your recent meals and food poisoning symptoms, Dr. Feckoury says.

“You have to use historical clues,” he explains. “Who else is ill? Did someone else eat the same meal as me?”

A physician can cross-check your information with your local health department, which compiles reports of other people’s illnesses. But if you never figure out the exact cause, you’re not alone.

How to treat food poisoning

Diarrhea and vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration, Dr. Feckoury says, so getting plenty of fluids is key. You can drink water or try Gatorade or Pedialyte.

You may be tempted to try over-the-counter medications, but Dr. Feckoury says food poisoning usually needs to run its course. In the meantime, he also advises rest and a BRAT diet, which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Broths may also be tolerable.  

“Eating small meals that don’t have a lot of fat in them” is usually the most effective way to stay nourished and keep foods down, Dr. Feckoury says.

While many food poisoning cases don’t require a doctor’s care, you should be mindful of more serious symptoms. If you come down with a fever of 100.4 or higher or experience bloody diarrhea, it’s time to see your physician.

People with compromised immune systems or other risk factors need to stay particularly vigilant. Pregnant women and older people, for example, are at higher risk and should always see a doctor for food poisoning.

If your illness doesn’t improve, a visit to your doctor may be in order no matter what.

“Don’t hesitate to come see us,” Dr. Feckoury says.

Reduce your risk for food poisoning

There’s no surefire way to prevent food poisoning, but you can lower your chances of it by preparing meals safely and correctly.

Dr. Feckoury offers these tips to avoid foodborne illness:

  • Wash your hands after you change diapers, blow your nose, touch animals and go to the bathroom.
  • Do not drink unpasteurized milk.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Keep your refrigerator colder than 40 degrees and your freezer below 0 degrees.
  • Cook meat and seafood to well-done.
  • Keep your knives and cutting boards clean.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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