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How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

Dec 02, 2015

If you have eaten contaminated food, you might wind up with food poisoning. This awful feeling will definitely make you wonder "how long does food poisoning last". The symptoms can be awful, including vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. The poisoning can be so severe that some people even need to stay in the hospital with intense symptoms. However, for most people, food poisoning can resolve on its own with only patience and no treatment.

How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

Most food poisoning cases last 1-2 days with the symptoms resolving on their own. If food poisoning lasts longer than that, one should seek medical help. 

The answer to "how long does food poisoning last" and how long does it take for symptoms to show also depends upon where the poison came from. If the tainted food contained staph, the symptoms can begin within one hour of eating. If the problem came from campylobacter, the symptoms might not show up for 10 days or more. If you are dealing with a parasite, it might take even longer for the problems to show up. Sometimes the long wait between the meal and the food poisoning signs makes it tough to figure out exactly what you ate that might have been bad. Those symptoms can last from about a day for some infections, or a few months or even longer for other more harsh infections.

What Are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

The signs of food poisoning can start out very mild and become severe quickly. The most common signs are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea might contain mucus or blood.

You might also feel severe stomach cramps, aching muscles, loss of appetite and a lack of energy. You might run a high fever and have chills, depending upon the source of the food poisoning. In fact, some symptoms of food poisoning can be mistaken for stomach flu.

Is It Food Poisoning or Stomach Flu?

How can you tell if it is food poisoning or the stomach flu? Your first sign might be the abdominal pain, as the stomach flu often gives you aches and pains, but not the sharp pains that come along with food poisoning. The flu also takes some time to take hold, so a sudden onset of symptoms might indicate that it came from tainted food.

The diarrhea and vomiting you experience might be very severe if you get food poisoning since your body is trying to get rid of the poison as quickly as possible. You might also notice that everyone who ate the same thing falls ill at the same time – not one person getting sick and then another one catching it days later, like you would with the flu.

Finally, the answer to "how long does food poisoning last" can hold the key to the problem. Viruses and other nasty illnesses tend to linger for a longer time while most bouts of food poisoning are done in less than 24 hours.

When to See a Doctor

If you suspect you have food poisoning, you might want to see a doctor to help you go through the symptoms. Remember that sometimes food poisoning can be very severe, so look for signs of dehydration and a high fever. Call your doctor immediately if you notice the following:

  • Dehydration signs, such as sunken eyes, dry mouth or decreased urination
  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than two days and is very severe
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Significant vomiting or nausea
  • Black, tarry or bloody stools
  • A fever greater than 102 °F
  • Signs of chemical or toxin poisoning, including tearing of the eyes, salivation, confusion, stomach pain or dizziness, usually occurring within 30 minutes of a meal

These issues in an infant or toddler are significant cause for concern and should be reported to the doctor immediately. Any child under the age of three months of age with a fever over 100.4 °F should always see the doctor.

If you suffer from muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, muscle paralysis, blurred vision or loss of speech, call 911 right away. These are signs of botulism poisoning which can be fatal if not treated quickly.

How to Treat Food Poisoning

1. Rest Up

If you have the symptoms of food poisoning, don’t drink or eat anything for a few hours to give your stomach a chance to recover. Avoid dairy, caffeine, nicotine, anything spicy and anything containing alcohol. Anti-diarrheal medication is not a good idea as it can keep you from purging the poisons. When you do feel like eating, turn to only bland foods for a few days.

2. Replacement of Lost Fluids

When you have severe diarrhea, your body loses fluids and electrolytes at a fast rate. It is very important to replace those fluids, so drink something like Pedialyte and Gatorade in order to replenish what your body needs. Severe cases might require IV fluids in the hospital.

3. Antibiotics

Certain types of food poisoning that are very severe might require antibiotics to help you get over them. For instance, listeria poisoning responds well to antibiotics. Keep in mind that this is unusual and antibiotics might not help you if you have the most common forms of food poisoning.

How to Prevent Food Poisoning

There are some ways to help ensure that your food stays safe. Always prepare foods properly, heating them thoroughly and refrigerate leftovers promptly. All fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before eating and you should wash your hands frequently when preparing food and before eating the food. Keep your countertops clean as well.

If you are at a restaurant, make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked and don’t eat anything that looks odd or moldy. Be aware of dirty plates or silverware as well.

Finally, if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, avoid eating soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk or juices, as these might contain listeria which could be harmful to you and fatal to your baby.