For centuries, foodies across the country have been plagued by the dreaded, stomach-wrecking ailment known as food poisoning. While some individuals are at higher risk for food poisoning, anyone can get it. In fact, every year, an estimated 48 million people come in contact with foodborne diseases, according to the Center for Disease Control. And with summer fast approaching, it’s more important than ever to escape living in ignorant bliss when it comes to your food, as bad bacteria thrive in the stifling heat. But what exactly causes food poisoning, how can you treat it at home, and can you take precautions against it? Let’s take a closer look.
An In-Depth Look at Food Poisoning
Food poisoning, also termed as foodborne illness, is a common infectious ailment that’s caused by consuming contaminated food or beverages. These contaminants—including bacteria, parasites, molds, and other infectious organisms—thrive in raw foods, such as uncooked meats and salads. For that reason, most cases of food poisoning are often the result of cross-contamination due to improper food preparation and storage, as well as poor hygiene practices.
Certain foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others, especially if improperly stored, prepared, or cooked. These foods include:
- Vegetables and leafy greens
- Fish and shellfish
- Deli meats
- Unpasteurized dairy
Before consuming any of these foods, take the time to consider their preparation and review expiration dates. These steps can help prevent contraction of a foodborne illness.
Most cases of food poisoning in the U.S. have good outcomes, as they usually resolve quickly and have no severe complications. However, in some instances, a person may experience severe symptoms. Those with a greater risk of food poisoning include seniors, infants, young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and people with pre-existing health conditions, such as chronic kidney disease (CKD). It is imperative that individuals at greater risk for food poisoning observe their meals for possible contamination before eating and seek proper medical attention if the ailment is contracted.
Symptoms: Food Poisoning vs. “The Stomach Bug”
It’s easy to mistake abdominal discomfort for food poisoning or, worse, the stomach virus. Fortunately, there are other symptoms that can help a person tell the difference. Unlike the stomach virus, symptoms of food poisoning typically occur within six hours of consuming the contaminated food or drink. It’s safe to say that ingesting bacteria has a fair share of unpleasant outcomes, such as these symptoms:
- A fever
- Stomach cramps
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you can suspect food poisoning—especially if you ate a high-risk food or are with other individuals who consumed the same food and are experiencing similar symptoms. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but most will dissipate within 24 hours.
Treating Food Poisoning at Home
The immune system can usually handle the pathogens that cause food poisoning without medical assistance. Here are some home remedies that can help calm the unpleasant symptoms and aid recovery time:
- Resting as much as possible.
- Letting the stomach settle by avoiding dairy, alcohol, processed sugar, caffeine, and spicy or fatty foods.
- Easing yourself into eating by sticking to bland and easy-to-digest foods.
- Sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of clear liquids to avoid dehydration—a common side effect of food poisoning.
Above all, home care for mild or moderate bacterial and viral food poisoning should be centered around preventing dehydration. Keeping your fluids up with a combination of water and electrolyte solutions—such as Pedialyte—is usually enough to replace the amount of liquids lost through the sickness, even if taken through small sips. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are recommended for people that are vulnerable to the effects of dehydration, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. These dissolvable packets can be found at pharmacies and help replace salt, glucose, and other important minerals that your body loses through dehydration. While there are some anti-diarrhea medications and other over-the-counter (OTC) solutions that claim to alleviate symptoms, you should be cautious and check with a doctor. Depending on the type of infection you have, these medications actually worsen your condition.
Get Medical Care Delivered
If your symptoms are severe or persistent, or you are more vulnerable to serious infection, you may need further treatment. People should seek medical care if they have any of the following symptoms:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Bloody stool or vomit
- Fever above 104°F
Tests may be performed on a stool sample to find out the exact cause of your symptoms and antibiotics may be prescribed if the results show you have a bacterial infection. In some cases, you may need to be admitted to the hospital for a few days so that you can be monitored and given fluids intravenously (directly into a vein).
If you suspect that you or a loved one has an extreme case of food poisoning, rather than scheduling an appointment at your local emergency room (ER), turn to the experts at DispatchHealth for advanced in-home medical care. The professional medical team that travels to your home consists of either a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, along with an EMT-level trained medical technician and on-call physician. Arriving with full-service kits that contain nearly all the tools found in a traditional ER—ranging from blood tests to IVs—our providers can administer treatments for both common and complex ailments, including severe dehydration.
Don’t let tummy troubles bother you! Contact DispatcHealth via phone, mobile app, or online to schedule an in-home medical evaluation. We’ll arrive at your home within a few hours.
DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.
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