Food Poisoning - Treatment

People with food poisoning should modify their diet during the period of illness. They should drink clear liquids frequently, but in small amounts. As their condition improves, soft, bland foods can be added to the diet. A commonly recommended diet is called the BRAT diet. The BRAT diet gets its name from the four foods it includes: banana, rice, applesauce, and toast. Milk products, spicy food, alcohol, and fresh fruit should be avoided until all symptoms disappear. These dietary changes are often the only treatment necessary for food poisoning.

In all cases of food poisoning except botulism, the major concern is dehydration. Diarrhea and vomiting both result in the loss of water and electrolytes from the body. Electrolytes are chemicals that control many important body functions. When they are lost, normal body functions may be disrupted. This problem can be especially serious in young children and elderly people.

Simple dehydration is easily treated. Over-the-counter (non-prescription) fluids that restore electrolytes can be purchased in any drug store. These fluids are usually pleasant tasting and restore lost water and electrolytes efficiently. If dehydration is serious, further treatment may be necessary. Fluids may have to be injected directly into a person's bloodstream.

In very serious cases of food poisoning, medications may be given to stop cramping and vomiting. Nothing should be done to stop diarrhea, however. Diarrhea helps remove toxins from the body.

In some cases, doctors may decide to use drugs to treat food poisoning. The most frequently prescribed antibiotics are a combination of trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole (pronounced tri-METH-o-prim and SULL-fuhmeth-OCK-suh-zole, trade names Septra, Bactrim), ampicillin (pronounced AMP-ih-SIL-in, trade names Amcill, Polycill), or ciprofloxacin (pronounced SIP-ro-FLOK-suh-sin, trade names Ciloxan, Cipro).

The treatment of botulism is a much more difficult problem. A botulism antitoxin exists. The antitoxin counteracts the poison produced by C. botulinum. But it must be given within seventy-two hours after symptoms first appear. After that time, the antitoxin has no effect. The antitoxin also cannot be used on infants.

Both infants and adults who have botulism require hospital care. Patients may need to have a mechanical device to help them breathe until paralysis disappears.

Alternative Treatment

Alternative practitioners offer the same advice regarding diet modification as that described above. They also recommend taking charcoal tablets. Charcoal has the ability to attract and soak up toxins in the body. Other recommended treatments include two bacteria found in milk products, Lactobacillus acidophilus (pronounced LACK-toe-buh-sill-us a-suh-DAH-fuh-luss) and Lactobacillus bulgaricus (pronounced LACK-toe-buh-sill-us bul-GAR-ihkuss), and citrus seed extract.

A fluid to replace water and electrolytes can be made at home. It is made by adding one teaspoon of salt and four teaspoons of sugar to one quart of water. Two herbs that are recommended for treating forms of food poisoning other than botulism are Arsenicum album and Nux vomica.

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