Most food-borne illnesses require no treatment other than fluids and rest. But drinking fluids may not be so easy when youre throwing up every ten minutes.
Try drinking small quantities frequently, says physician Glenn Morris of the University of Maryland. Even a sip or two every few minutes can keep you from becoming dehydrated. Fluids like Pedialyte are best, but other clear liquids like ginger ale or apple juice may also help.
People get into trouble when they dont keep up with the fluid loss, adds Morris. Even though you lose liquids when you throw up, theres a net gain.
And if you want something to reduce a fever, says Morris, take acetaminophen (Tylenol) rather than aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil), which could irritate your stomach.
Call the doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
Bloody diarrhea or pus in the stool. They generally are signs of a bacterial infection with organisms like E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, or Shigella, says Morris. While you may not need antibiotics, its a good idea to check with your doctor.
Fever that lasts more than 48 hours. In adults, it could signal an infection thats not getting better. (Children are far more likely to develop non-threatening fevers that last more than a day or two.)
Faintness, rapid heart rate, or dizziness after sitting or standing up suddenly, or a significant drop in the frequency of urination. They could mean life-threatening dehydration.
One final suggestion: Getting a stool culture is the only way to find out what caused your illness and to help public health officials identify an outbreak. The problem is that it can cost $150 or more and many health plans wont pay for it.
The number of people getting stool cultures is going down, because the general feeling is that theres nothing were going to do other than plug an IV into them, says Morris. And in todays world of managed care, if it costs money, who cares about the public health consequences?
If you suspect that you got food poisoning from eating at a restaurant, call your local health department.