Food poisoning: Symptoms and how to treat it

If the food poisoning caused by bacteria be deemed severe, antibiotics will be prescribed.

Food poisoning is a condition caused by ingesting contaminated food. Bacteria, viruses, parasites or their toxins are the most common causes of this condition.

Food poisoning is usually not serious and most people feel better after a few days without treatment.

The common signs and symptoms of food poisoning include the following:

• Vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea

• Stomach ache

• Fever

• Fatigue and lack of energy

• Anorexia

• Myalgia

• Chills

You may experience other symptoms as an effect of food poisoning. If you have any concerns about signs of illnesses, consult a doctor immediately.

Visit a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

• Frequent vomiting

• Bloody vomit or stools

• Diarrhoea for more than 3 days

• Severe abdominal cramping

• Oral temperature higher than 38.6oC

• Thirst, dry mouth, very little to no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness

• Blurry vision, muscle weakness, and tingling arms.

The causes of food poisoning

You could suffer from food poisoning if you consume contaminated food or water.

Food can be contaminated during several phases of production such as growing, harvesting, processing, storing, transporting or preparing.

The main cause for contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria from one surface to another. If you regularly consume foods that are not cooked, such as salads or other raw foods, you would be prone to food-borne bacteria which can cause food poisoning.

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can all cause food poisoning, of which viruses are the leading cause, followed by bacteria.

Another popular cause is toxins which are produced by existing bacteria in foods such as vegetables, meat or fish, and occasionally, other bacteria from the environment. These toxins also may stem from selected chemicals.

Who is at risk of food poisoning

Food poisoning is very common and can affect people of any age. However, you may prevent the condition from occurring by reducing its risk factors. Consult a doctor for more details.

There are many factors that increase the risk of food poisoning:

Ageing: The older generation tend to have a weaker immune system that may not respond well to harmful bacteria.

Pregnancy: Pregnant mothers experience a number of changes in metabolism and circulation and the severity of food poisoning may be amplified.

Underdeveloped immune systems: These include infants and young children with developing immune systems.

Those with chronic diseases: These include diabetes, liver disease or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea are the most common signs of food poisoning.

The information provided herein is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult a doctor for more information.


Food poisoning is often diagnosed based on detailed medical history, including the duration of illness, symptoms, and specific foods consumed. Doctors would also perform a physical exam to check for signs of dehydration.

They would perform elaborate tests to examine blood, stool culture or parasites, to determine the cause of the condition and provide a conclusive diagnosis.

The stool sample taken would be sent to a laboratory to identify the bacteria. In some cases, the causes may not be determined.


For most people, the illness goes away after a few days without treatment, while some types of food poisoning may last longer. If you are unable to recover on your own, a doctor would recommend treatment depending on the cause, symptoms and severity of your condition.

A doctor may advise to drink plenty of water. Fluids and electrolytes – including minerals such as sodium, potassium, and calcium – can help maintain the body’s balance of water due to excessive loss of liquid from diarrhoea.

To prevent and treat dehydration, a doctor may use intravenous saline and fluids.

If food poisoning caused by bacteria is deemed severe, antibiotics will be prescribed. During pregnancy, timely antibiotic treatment can prevent the foetus from contracting infections.

If you do not experience bloody diarrhoea or fever, the doctor may advise you to consume loperamide (Imodium A-D®) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®).

Home remedies

When experiencing food poisoning, it is important to vomit previously consumed food. However, vomiting for children should not be induced as they are vulnerable to choking. After vomiting, you should consume an oresol solution to replace electrolytes.

If a person experiences seizures, apnea, and cardiac arrest, it would be best to provide them with artificial respiration. If the person goes into a coma, lay them on their side with their head tilted forward to prevent vomit from entering the lungs. After first aid, said person should be rushed to hospital for immediate medical attention.

Habits that can help reduce the progression of food poisoning

• Allow your stomach to settle. Avoid drinking or eating for a few hours.

• Place small ice cubes into your mouth or take very small sips of water. Drink a broth or non-caffeinated sports drink.

• When you start eating again, opt for bland, low-fat, easy-to-digest foods such as toast, gelatine, bananas, and rice.

• Get lots of rest to recuperate from the illness and dehydration.

What to eat if you’re experiencing food poisoning

It is normal to feel weak after a bout of vomiting. Thus, you should consume foods that do not worsen the condition. These include:

Fluids. When experiencing food poisoning, the body becomes dehydrated due to loss of liquid, leading to an electrolyte imbalance. Therefore, rehydration is very important. Besides water, you can also consume an oresol solution.

Bland and easy-to-digest foods. The intestines are often weakened from a bout of food poisoning. You should only consume foods that are easy to digest and do not overwork the stomach. Foods considered gentle on the stomach are porridge, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, and soft fruits.

Probiotic-rich foods for digestion. The replacement of probiotics after a bout of food poisoning helps balance intestinal microflora. Yogurt is best.

If you have any concerns, consult a doctor.

This article first appeared on Hello Doktor and medically reviewed by Hello Doktor. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.