Comprehensive guide on how to treat food poisoning outlines symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment and prevention measures.
What is Food Poisoning?
Course of the disease and prognosis
Prevent food poisoning
Eating the wrong or spoiled food can quickly lead to food poisoning. In this article you will find everything you need to know about the various causes of poisoning and how to deal with it.
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning is caused by ingesting food. These foods have been spoiled by the toxins or pathogens they contain and trigger typical symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. If it is only a matter of slight food poisoning, it will subside within a few days. More severe cases may also require hospital treatment. Food poisoning is divided into three categories, which are briefly presented in the following sections.
Food poisoning overview
There are two variants of food poisoning. On the one hand, the toxin is already formed by microorganisms in food or it is already in the food. The former includes bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus or various molds. Algae and single-celled organisms are also able to contaminate food with their toxins.
The second deals with poisons that are not produced by microorganisms but already exist in food. These include, for example, mushroom poisoning, poisonous animals, poisoning by pesticides or poisoning by plants.
A Toxin infection is food poisoning, the pathogen of which creates the toxin in the body. The most dangerous here is the life-threatening botulism infection, or meat poisoning, in connection with the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
A food infection is caused by living pathogens. These pathogens include bacteria, viruses and parasites. These pathogens cause gastrointestinal symptoms and the best-known example is food poisoning caused by Salmonella poisoning.ADVERTISING
How to treat food poisoning: recognise symptoms
The most common symptoms of food poisoning are:
- Stomach cramps
Symptoms often appear after a few minutes to hours after eating spoiled and poisonous food. The symptoms are often only mild and go away after a few days.
With severe poisoning, the symptoms are correspondingly more pronounced and manifest as violent vomiting, very bloody diarrhea or very frequent diarrhea per day. In this case, a doctor must be called in.
Food poisoning – causes
Food poisoning can have many causes, including pathogens, toxins, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. In the next few sections we will introduce you to the most important causes of food poisoning.
How to treat food poisoning: from pathogens
There are three major pathogens that can cause food poisoning or food infection. Salmonella poisoning, listeriosis poisoning and botulism. The first two are featured in this section, while botulism is discussed in detail later in the “Meat Poisoning” section.
The best known is salmonella poisoning, triggered by salmonellosis, i.e. bacteria from the group of salmonella. Food often ingests the pathogen when it is still raw or has not been heated sufficiently. Therefore, you should be especially careful when consuming raw eggs. In addition to the symptoms already mentioned, the symptoms of salmonella poisoning often include chills and fever. However, the infection can also proceed without any symptoms.
The next pathogen is listeriosis. These bacteria belong to the Listeria genus and are mainly found in animal foods such as soft cheese, raw milk or raw meat. These bacteria also multiply at low temperatures and in vacuum packs. If you are considered a healthy person, you usually have no symptoms from these bacteria, but joint and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and fever can occur.
If the pathogen spreads through other organ systems, additional complaints arise and become particularly dangerous if they penetrate the brain and cause meningitis or blood poisoning. Infants, the elderly, and people with poor immune systems are particularly affected by these complications. Blood poisoning from listeriosis can also be dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn child, as such poisoning can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.
In addition to the three pathogens already mentioned, there are many more that can cause food poisoning. These include, for example:
- Escherichia coli
If food poisoning is triggered by pathogens, local epidemics often arise, for example due to canteen meals. And the number of cases also increases in the summer months, because pathogens multiply much faster in warm temperatures.
How to treat food poisoning: Mushroom poisoning
The consumption of poisonous mushrooms, for example fly agaric or capillary mushroom, causes mushroom poisoning. Typical symptoms here are stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. They appear shortly after the fungus is ingested. In addition, it can lead to chills, dizziness, sweating, impaired consciousness and perception, shortness of breath, palpitations and / or disturbances of balance.
Depending on the amount and type of mushrooms ingested, the symptoms vary in size. You should inform the doctor about which mushrooms have been consumed and possibly keep a remnant of the meal or even vomit so that the samples can be analyzed if necessary. If you eat moldy foods, you can also experience symptoms of food poisoning. Because some molds produce aflatoxins, which severely damage the liver.
How to treat food poisoning: Fish poisoning
Fish poisoning can occur after ingesting fish, mussels or crabs. Often it is because the animals were stored incorrectly or for too long. This is how the bacteria multiply in them, which can then trigger poisoning. Fish poisoning can also be triggered by the toxin ciguatoxin. This poison enters the animal to be eaten via the food chain and then causes poisoning in humans. Another possibility for fish poisoning is poisonous fish itself. For example, puffer fish can cause paralysis in the skeletal and respiratory muscles and are usually fatal. Therefore, these fish are safe to eat only if properly prepared.
How to treat food poisoning: poisoning
There is also botulism, meat poisoning, which is a very dangerous but rare infection. This is triggered by the bacteria of the type Clostridium botulinum, also called Clostridia, and occurs when contaminated food is ingested. Here it is particularly important to pay attention to packaged products whose packaging, for example in the case of canned food, is bloated. Above all, when packaged airtight, the bacteria like to multiply. This can even occur with pickled vegetables and fruit and not only with canned food from the supermarket.
The infection affects the nervous system and symptoms, such as paralysis of the eye muscles, only appear 20 to 36 hours after ingestion. Then there are speech disorders, a slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, weakness of the skeletal muscles, constipation and urinary retention. A dry mouth, dilated pupils, swallowing and vision disorders, drooping eyelids and slow reflexes are typical side effects. It is particularly dangerous when the nerves that are important for breathing are affected. Therefore, botulism without mechanical ventilation can lead to death due to respiratory failure. Botulism is always treated in the hospital.
How to treat food poisoning: from plants
Small children in particular experience food poisoning from plant toxins. Out of curiosity, they like to stick parts of plants in their mouths. If you notice this, notify the emergency doctor immediately!
In nature there are many plants that produce toxins as self-protection against predators and are already considered to be poisonous if they are poisonous in small quantities. Typical poisonous plants and their symptoms are:
- Ivy: stomach discomfort and fever at high doses
- Yew tree: respiratory paralysis, circulatory disorder, impaired consciousness
- Laburnum: paralysis up to respiratory arrest
- Angel trumpet: clouding and restriction of consciousness, heart failure
- Autumn crocus: respiratory paralysis, nausea
- Lily of the valley: life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias
- Monkshood: cramps, hypothermia, cardiac and respiratory paralysis, death
- Fingergut: cardiac arrhythmias, inflammation, nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, hallucinations
- Henbane: heart trouble, hallucinations
- Potato leaves, poisonous as tea
- Green potatoes: diarrhea, respiratory paralysis
- Tomato leaves: Danger of death if leaves are used as tea
How to treat food poisoning: from pollutants
Food can be contaminated by various pollutants such as lead, cadmium, mercury or zinc and cause poisoning. Especially if you eat a large amount or many small amounts of the contaminated food. The symptoms and their severity vary depending on the toxin ingested. An organic lead compound, for example, can disrupt the central nervous system and trigger states of excitement, hallucinations and convulsions. Such poisoning can also have long-term consequences, such as Parkinson’s-like symptoms and paralysis.
Food poisoning – risk factors
A higher temperature alone encourages bacteria to multiply, so the risk of food poisoning is higher in some countries than in others. There are also hygiene standards, the preparation and sale of these foods.
Viruses are another risk factor. These come into contact with infected faeces or contaminated water, or they have been prepared by infected people. Viruses cannot multiply in food and also do not spoil it, so the food can remain infectious for a long time without being noticed. Because you cannot tell that the food is contaminated and the taste or smell does not give any indication. Foods that are served cold and ready to eat are particularly risky, for example salads, fruit, baked goods and desserts. Especially in places where many people are at the same time, such as schools, kindergartens, old people’s homes and hospitals, are very prone to gastrointestinal complaints caused by viruses.
How to treat food poisoning: diagnosis
It is not easy to diagnose food poisoning. The symptoms are similar to gastrointestinal flu or a simple upset stomach and are often not classified as food poisoning.
An anamnesis provides important clues. If the patient reports, for example, about mushrooms that they have collected themselves or about food and beverages that have tasted unusual or strange, it is easy to make a diagnosis. Even if the number of people with gastrointestinal symptoms increases in a facility, the diagnosis is easy.
In healthy people, further diagnostics are only started if the symptoms are severe, such as long-lasting, severe, frequent and bloody diarrhea. Here, stool and / or blood samples are examined in the laboratory to identify the trigger.
How to treat food poisoning: investigation
If food poisoning symptoms, even if suspected, persist after a few days, it is important to see a doctor. Medical help must be guaranteed, especially for children and the elderly, as diarrhea and vomiting result in high fluid and electrolyte loss.
In the event of severe food poisoning with severe diarrhea and possibly blood in the stool, samples of stool and blood are sent to the laboratory to be analyzed and the pathogen determined. Since a particular food usually looks suspicious at the beginning, random samples of the food are examined in the laboratory in order to find out the pathogens or toxins and then treat them accordingly.
If meat poisoning is suspected, for example due to the symptoms of visual disturbances, dilated pupils, dry mouth, swallowing and speech disorders, therapy is initiated immediately without waiting for diagnostic results, as botulinum infection can be fatal in a short time. Nevertheless, the stool or vomit is examined for the pathogen during therapy.
Report food poisoning
Food poisoning caused by bacteria should be reported. The triggering food is then analyzed by institutes and if the suspicion is confirmed, the contaminated food must be removed from the market and a food warning is published so that there can be no more cases. Private individuals, food chains and the responsible authorities can submit the suspicious food and have it analyzed.
Food poisoning – disease course and prognosis
Food poisoning usually goes away on its own within a few days. In-patient treatment is only necessary in some cases and also in children and the elderly. In the next few sections you will learn everything about the duration and dangers of food poisoning.
Duration and incubation period
The duration of food poisoning depends on the cause and the amount of food consumed. In some cases the symptoms improve after a few hours and in other cases of poisoning the symptoms can last for several days. The average is one to two days and apart from the unpleasant symptoms, food poisoning is quite mild. If the symptoms do not stop within a few days, it is advisable to consult a doctor. The incubation time for food poisoning is very short and also depends on the pathogen. Because after a few hours the first symptoms show up. Only in a few cases do the symptoms only show up after one or two days.
Is pood poisoning contagious?
In some cases, food poisoning can even be contagious. This is the case when bacteria such as Salmonella, EHEC, Campylobacter, Shigella or Yersinia trigger the poisoning. Usually it is not just one person who becomes ill, but the whole family, because everyone has eaten the same food. Such food poisoning can also occur in institutions. If you come into contact with the vomit or the stool of a sick person, you can become infected without consuming the food. Adequate hygiene measures in the sanitary area and sufficient hand washing are therefore extremely important. It is also advisable to keep your distance from the sick person and, if you suffer from it yourself, to take sick leave so that other people cannot become infected.
How dangerous is food poisoning?
While food poisoning can be very uncomfortable, it is usually harmless and you recover quickly. If you only have diarrhea and no fever or blood in your stool, food poisoning only lasts a few days – but it always depends on the cause and the amount.
Food poisoning becomes dangerous when the fluid and electrolyte loss is too high and cannot be compensated for quickly enough. Small children and the elderly in particular are more affected by this, which is why they have to be treated in hospital. The missing fluid and the lost salts are replaced with infusions.
If the food poisoning is botulism, it can have life-threatening consequences. If left untreated, 50% of those affected die from respiratory paralysis within three to six days.
What to do if you have food poisoning
How you react to food poisoning depends on the cause and also the intensity of the poisoning. Hospital treatment is only really necessary under certain circumstances. The next few sections will provide you with diet tips, home remedies, and food poisoning medication.
What should you eat and drink?
Treatment in healthy adults and older children is limited to drinking sufficient amounts of fluids to compensate for fluid and electrolyte losses. A self-made rehydration solution can consist, for example, of 1 liter of water, 8 level teaspoons of sugar and 1 level teaspoon of salt.
If the fluid balance cannot be replenished (rehydration), an infusion must be given, especially in children, to avoid drying out. The amount consumed should be around 40 ml / kg body weight within 24 hours (ie 3 liters per day for a body weight of 75 kg).
By consuming easily digestible food such as rusks, pretzel sticks or white bread, the regeneration of the damaged intestinal mucosa can be promoted. Food abstinence (without food) during the duration of the diarrhea is not recommended, as the intestine does not receive any nutrients that it needs to rebuild the intestinal flora. In addition, the intestinal function is stopped by the food abstinence.
It is advisable to keep the diet low in fat and protein. In addition, flatulent foods, raw vegetables, milk and milk products, alcohol, cola and coffee should be avoided. Furthermore, people should pay particular attention to the quality of their food after food poisoning, as the intestinal flora is very damaged and needs time to completely regenerate. According to this, the likelihood of suffering food poisoning again is high for people who have just survived it (relapse).
Although food intake during food poisoning is extremely uncomfortable due to vomiting and diarrhea, it should not be completely avoided. Easily digestible foods such as bananas, rusks, rice, broth and white bread are recommended in the first few days. Food and drinks that are acidic, difficult to digest and irritate the mucous membranes should not be consumed. These include fruit juices, raw vegetables, fatty foods, dairy products, soft drinks, coffee and alcohol.
And even if the symptoms have subsided, one should first eat food with caution. Because the gastrointestinal tract is severely affected after such poisoning and needs a little recovery time. It is also extremely important to drink a lot. Because the body loses a lot of fluids and minerals through diarrhea and vomiting, which have to be reabsorbed. Still water and herbal teas are helpful here.
Home remedies for food poisoning
If the complaints are only mild, simple home remedies are often sufficient. As mentioned earlier, be sure to drink plenty to make up for fluid loss. If you have diarrhea you can also try charcoal tablets, but their effectiveness has not been scientifically proven. Another home remedy are probiotics. These contain beneficial bacteria that have a positive effect on the intestinal flora. They can be found in yogurt and food supplements, for example. Taking it may shorten the duration of the diarrhea.
Food poisoning medication
If you want, you can also take medication to treat food poisoning. Antiemetics, such as metoclopramide, help with nausea and vomiting, and antidiarrheal drugs, such as loperamide, help with diarrhea. In general, however, the intake is not recommended, as diarrhea and vomiting are a defense reaction of the body and try to remove pathogens and toxins from the body. Therefore, the drugs are only prescribed under certain circumstances.
Of course, it also depends on the cause of how you react to food poisoning. In the case of bacterial food poisoning, for example, antibiotics may well be prescribed. In the case of botulism, you even have to go to the intensive care unit, where the patients are given an antidote as quickly as possible and are artificially ventilated. Depending on the mushroom poisoning, there are specific antidotes that the patient receives. In addition, the stomach often has to be pumped out in this case.
Prevent food poisoning
Food poisoning cannot necessarily be prevented, but it does help to ensure fresh products and hygiene in the kitchen, avoid raw foods and only drink clean water.
In the case of bacteria, it is important to store food correctly and to prepare it under hygienic conditions. This primarily affects raw meat and eggs, milk, foods made from raw milk and contaminated drinking water. The leftovers of the food should be stored in a cool place and heated thoroughly when they are eaten again. You should also try to avoid raw food and, in countries with rather poor hygiene standards, only eat food that has been cooked, fried or peeled. In these countries, you should make sure that the water is boiled or the bottles are still sealed. You should also avoid ice cubes in your drink.
So that you don’t get food poisoning from poisons, you should only eat mushrooms that you know well, for example. In the case of marine animals and fish, care must be taken that the cold chain is not interrupted. The smell can already give clues about the condition. You should also completely avoid raw fish. With poisonous plants, it is important not to have any poisonous house or garden plants, especially with young children.
Metals can be found in baking powder, fruits, vegetables, processed cheese, coffee whiteners, canned goods, oysters, fish, mushrooms, grains, rice products and drinking water. If canned food is damaged or bloated, it should be disposed of. Fruits and vegetables should be washed or peeled thoroughly and it helps to find out about growing areas and, for fish, the fishing areas. As a general rule, food that is potentially contaminated should only be consumed in small amounts.
To avoid mold, you should only consume products from the EU or certified products. It is also important to examine the food for mold stains.
Other hygiene tips to help prevent food poisoning include:
- Wash dishes and kitchen utensils thoroughly before, between and after cooking, especially when preparing meat or fish
- Clean rags and cleaning cloths in the kitchen well and replace them regularly
- Fry fish and meat dishes well
- Store food at suitable temperatures
- Note the expiry date
- Avoid pets in the kitchen area
- Dispose of meat packaging immediately
- Interrupt the cold chain as briefly as possible