What should I do if I have food poisoning?
Most cases of food poisoning are mild and clear up in a few days. During that time, the goal is to prevent dehydration. Dehydration is the loss of fluids and electrolytes (nutrients and minerals) your body needs.
You should avoid solid foods and dairy products until the vomiting and diarrhea have passed. Once you are feeling better, ease into eating and drinking again. Try bland foods, such as crackers, toast and bananas. Avoid spicy foods, fried foods, dairy and foods that are high in fat and sugar. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid milk or caffeinated beverages. Also, sports drinks (brand name: Gatorade, others) are not meant to be used to treat diarrhea and do not replace the body’s electrolytes (salts and minerals) correctly to prevent dehydration.
When should I go to a doctor?
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
- Severe diarrhea lasts for more than 3 days.
- Frequent vomiting lasts for more than 2 days.
- You see blood in your stool.
- You are on diuretics and have diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
- You have a fever over 101°F.
Seek emergency care if:
- Your stool is maroon or black or you see a lot of blood in your stool.
- You are vomiting blood.
- You are having trouble breathing.
- You have severe abdominal pain or stomach cramping.
- You have double vision or trouble moving parts of your body.
- You have symptoms of severe dehydration (see the list above).
- You have trouble swallowing.
- You feel like your heart is pounding.
- You have food poisoning from eating mushrooms or shellfish.
How is food poisoning from fish treated?
Ciguatera poisoning is treated with medicines that help ease your symptoms. There is no medicine that will cure ciguatera poisoning. The symptoms will go away on their own over time.
Scombroid poisoning is treated using an antihistamine (one brand name: Benadryl). An antihistamine is a medicine that blocks the histamine in your blood.
How long will I be sick?
The symptoms of ciguatera poisoning can last for 1 to 2 weeks. Exactly how long they last will depend on the amount of poison you have in your body. The symptoms can come back any time you eat an affected fish.
The symptoms of scombroid poisoning usually last for 24 hours or less. The symptoms can come back any time you eat fish that has not been refrigerated properly.
Ciguatera and scombroid poisoning are rarely fatal.
How do I know if I’m dehydrated?
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Little or no urine, or urine that is darker than usual
- Dry mouth
- Sleepiness or fatigue
- Extreme thirst
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- No tears when crying
To treat mild dehydration, try taking frequent sips of water. Clear soups, clear sodas and juice mixed with water can also help. Avoid coffee, tea, dark sodas and other caffeinated drinks. These drinks can make dehydration worse. Give children who have mild dehydration water and/or an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS (brands: Pedialyte, Ricelyte, Rehydralyte) contains the right mix of salt, sugar, potassium and other nutrients to help replace lost body fluids. You can buy an ORS at most grocery stores and drugstores.
Severe cases of dehydration may have to be treated in the hospital. You may be given fluids and electrolytes intravenously (through an IV).
Poisoning, Envenomation, and Trauma from Marine Creatures by RA Perkins, M.D., M.P.H. and SS Morgan, M.D. (American Family Physician February 15, 2004, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040215/885.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff