The symptoms of food poisioning can catch you by surprise; and in this holiday season, how do you tell if it’s just overeating, a minor stomach bug, or something more serious? The winter holidays are a great time for catching up with friends and family and eating large meals with lavish desserts while wearing bulky sweaters so no one can see if you’ve indulged just a little too much. However, sometimes a stomachache and fatigue after a big meal may be the first indications of something more serious, like food poisoning.
Food can inadvertently become contaminated by harmful bacteria, parasites, or toxins such as E.coli, giardia, listeria, or salmonella. Food can be contaminated at several points before it reaches your table, or due to incorrect handling, improper cooking or inadequate storage. Thankfully, you may not get food poisoning from every undercooked, poorly refrigerated piece of chicken. However, the symptoms are pretty straightforward: nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. These symptoms can kick in anywhere from one hour to a few days after eating the offending food.
Be sure to see a healthcare provider if your illness intensifies, such as:
- vomiting becomes much more frequent, lasts more than two days, and contains blood
- there is blood in your bowel movements
- diarrhea lasts more than three days
- cramping and abdominal pain becomes severe
- you spike a temperature higher than 101.5 F
- dehydration occurs – this is characterized by excessive thirst, dry mouth, severe weakness, little or no urination, feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Be sure to tell your physician where you ate the offending food, in case the health department needs to be notified of a potential outbreak. Treatment usually focuses on replacing lost fluids, particularly lost electrolytes (the sodium, potassium and calcium depleted by vomiting and diarrhea). Severe food poisoning my require antibiotics or even hospitalization. If you’re pregnant, see your doctor at the onset of any symptoms.
As awful and disruptive as food poisoning is, in most cases it will resolve on its own after about 48 hours, but it can last up to a week or longer. There are a few things you can do to ease the discomfort. First, and this may seem like a no-brainer, but stop eating – give your stomach time to rest. Slowly drink or sip water or suck on ice chips. Clear broths, clear sodas or non-caffeinated sports drinks are also good, as is the old stand-by, ginger ale. When you do begin eating again, start with bland foods such as plain crackers, bananas, plain rice, or dry toast. Steer clear of spicy foods, caffeine, smoking, and alcohol for awhile. Make sure to get lots of rest, and just give yourself time to recover. Allow the bacteria and toxins time to work their way out of your system.