Most cases of food poisoning are not serious and can be managed at home. They should clear up within a few days to a week.
Make sure that you keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water to replace what you are losing when being sick or going to the toilet.
If the food poisoning does not go away on its own, it is severe, you are over 60, have a weakened immune system or if it’s a young child or baby who has symptoms of food poisoning, it is best to get checked out by a GP.
Food poisoning treatment
As we mentioned, most of the time it is best to let the food poisoning run its course. However. if you do need some kind of treatment, it may include:
- Oral rehydration solution (ORS)
- Anti-emetics (medicines that stop you vomiting)
- Antibiotics (if caused by bacteria)
- Hospitalisation for rehydration
Let's have a closer look at treatments.
Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are sometimes recommended for the elderly, young children under the age of five and for other people who have a weakened immune system. They can be purchased over the counter at a pharmacy or prescribed by a doctor – speak to a medical expert or read the patient information leaflet included before taking it.
It comes in sachet form and the contents are dissolved in water, which you then drink. The ORS replaces glucose, salt and minerals lost through dehydration due to being sick and going to the toilet.
These are not always suited to everyone - in particular, they are not recommended for those with kidney conditions. You can discuss with the doctor if an ORS is suitable for you if you are not sure.
Anti-emetics are not normally required, but if you cannot stop vomiting or if your food poisoning is severe, then the doctor may prescribe them.
Antibiotics are typically only prescribed in severe cases of food poisoning and only when the bacteria that is causing the symptoms is identified. This is because antibiotics will not work against a virus.
How to get rid of food poisoning
As we mentioned, you will have to let food poisoning
You will have to let food poisoning run its course. However, there are things that you can do at home to help yourself get feel a little better, including:Resting as much as possible.
- Keeping hydrated by drinking plenty of fluid.
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks, as these can irritate your digestive tract.
- Avoiding fatty foods and spicy foods.
- Drinking coconut water and fruit juice to restore carbohydrates and to help tackle fatigue.
- Eating when you can – you can start with bland foods such as bananas, porridge, boiled vegetables, potatoes, dry crackers, toast and rice.
Over-the counter-medicines are also available to help stop vomiting and diarrhoea, although in most cases you should not need to take them. This is because vomiting and diarrhoea are the body’s way of getting rid of toxins, so stopping it may mean it takes longer to recover. These medicines may also mask the severity of illness, leading to further complications.
What happens if food poisoning is left untreated?
If food poisoning is left untreated, the most common complication that can arise is dehydration. For the elderly, very young or others who are at risk, this may result in them being hospitalised for intravenous fluids. Severe dehydration can be fatal, so it is always best to speak to a doctor if you think dehydration is possible.
You should speak to doctor if you are experiencing:
- Frequent vomiting
- Bloody poo or vomit
- Diarrhoea that has lasted for three days or more
- A high temperature of 38.5 Celsius or more
- Signs of dehydration such as a dry mouth, excessive thirst, dizziness, severe weakness or the passing of little or no urine
- Blurred vision, muscle weakness or tingling in the arms
Can food poisoning cause complications?
There are three types of food poisoning bacteria that can cause further complications, including listeria monocytogenes (in pregnant women), Escherichia coli (E. coli) and botulism bacteria.
The listeria monocytogenes bacteria causes listeria food poisoning and this can be very dangerous for pregnant women. In the early stages of pregnancy, listeria food poisoning may lead to a miscarriage, while later on in pregnancy, it can cause premature birth, stillbirth or a potentially fatal infection for the baby after birth. This can be caused even when the mother is only mildly ill. Babies that survive a listeria infection may also suffer from long-term neurological damage.
Certain strains of the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria can cause the serious complication of hemolytic uremic syndrome. This damages the small blood vessels in the lining of the kidney and can sometimes lead to kidney failure.
Food poisoning caused by botulism bacteria is very rare, but can be fatal. It is found in food that has not been properly canned, preserved or cooked and affects your nerves and can cause paralysis if left untreated. Call 999 immediately if you have, or someone you know has, the symptoms - this includes drooping eyelids, weak facial muscles, slurred speech, breathing or swallowing difficulties.