Dealing With Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is an issue caused when individuals consume food that has either been contaminated or gone bad, and is a result of a specific toxin or bacteria that is found in something they have eaten or drank. 

Based on the severity of the food poisoning, it can be a detrimental health issue. However, with the right care received, either at home or at medical facilities, it can be cured within weeks.

Connector spoke to hospitals in the UAE to get insight into the condition and find ways to manage and deal with it better at home as well as when medical attention is required.

Dr Prayrna Sharma, Specialist Internal Medicine at Medeor Hospital Dubai said, "Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food, specifically from a toxin in food. It is not usually serious, and most people have mild conditions which get better within a few days, as most cases are due to viral infection and are self-limiting. Still, some cases require medical attention due to bacterial causes or complications, particularly dehydration."

There are various kinds of food items that can be consumed to cause the health issue, and this can be due to food that is left open for too long, especially during the summer months, poultry and seafood that is not cooked in the right way and is still undercooked, or products that have not been stored in the right way.

Dr Shipra Patil, Specialist Internal Medicine at Dubai London Hospital added, "Food can be contaminated because it is not cooked properly, improperly stored, or because of poor hygiene. Foods particularly susceptible to contamination are raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish, unpasteurised milk and milk products, raw vegetables and sprouts, soft cheese and contaminated water."

As each case is different and the intensity of food poisoning can differ, the symptoms can manifest either within hours of consuming the food, or after a few days.

Some of the symptoms of food poisoning, as mentioned by Dr Shipra Patil of Dubai London Hospital are:

  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy and weakness
  • Diarrhoea with bloody stools and mucus
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Bloating

However, Dr Prayrna Sharma of Medeor Hospital Dubai said that in certain cases, when food poisoning is severe, some of the symptoms include:

  • Recurrent vomiting and diarrhoea that contains blood 
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Blurred or double vision 
  • Headache 
  • Loss of limb movement 
  • Little or no urination 

Food poisoning can be treated at home and does not always require medical assistance, here are some tips to dealing with it.

Eat light: Due to the discomfort of the upset stomach and the loss of appetite, it is easy to skip out on eating meals to avoid the discomfort felt otherwise. However, not eating food makes it difficult to get better quicker and can lead to a hospital visit to ensure food is being consumed. It is essential to avoid eating heavy dishes and instead opt for light meals, that are easy for the stomach to digest. Dr Shipra Patil of Dubai London Hospital said, "Eat small, light meals at first and stick to bland foods such as toast, crackers, bananas, and rice until you begin to feel better."

Stay hydrated: With food poisoning, the common symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting, which quickly lead to dehydration. With nausea experienced, many people tend to avoid drinking water and eating to avoid dealing with the symptoms, and this can lead to the issue worsening. Dr Prayrna Sharma of Medeor Hospital Dubai said, "It is essential to avoid dehydration and replenish the loss of fluids and electrolytes through vomiting and diarrhoea. Drink clear liquids such as Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS), coconut water and lemon water."

Avoid certain items: As food poisoning affects the immune system, consuming certain food items and drinks can lead to severe nausea and aggravate the symptoms experienced. In these situations, some items, that can cause adverse reactions in the body should be avoided. Dr Shipra Patil of Dubai London Hospital added, "Avoid caffeine, fizzy drinks, spicy and fatty foods, and dairy products."

Prevention is always better than cure and there are ways to avoid food poisoning.

It is important to be extremely careful throughout the year as bacteria grows in warm temperatures, however during the summer months where temperatures are at their highest, the risk is greater as it grows on food at a faster rate.

Not storing food in the right way, or poor hygiene, are factors that could lead to food poisoning. To prevent it from happening and having to deal with the issue, it is vital to ensure that all produce and seafood are cleaned thoroughly and cooked properly. If the products are being stored for a longer period of time, once cooled they should be immediately put in the fridge to avoid bacteria from developing. Additionally, products should be consumed before the expiry date to ensure they do not react with the body and cause a negative reaction. 

Dr Prayrna Sharma of Medeor Hospital Dubai said, "The best way to avoid getting food poisoning is to maintain high personal and food hygiene standards when storing, handling, and preparing food. Remember the four C's, cleaning, cooking, chilling and cross-contamination."

If the issue is widespread from schools and offices, it is important to find the root cause from when it originated from to avoid it from occurring once again.

In certain circumstances, when the symptoms are severe and cannot be treated at home, a visit to the hospital is vital. Individuals that are aged 60 and above, pregnant, and have chronic illnesses like diabetes, kidney issues, inflammatory bowel disease and heart ailments, should visit the doctor immediately.

Additionally, for individuals that have persistent vomiting, diarrhoea and high fever, even after several days, medical assistance will be required to help reduce the symptoms. In these circumstances, a blood test, clinical examination and other tests will be carried out to find the root cause, in order to provide the right care and treatment.

It is possible to treat food poisoning at home by following the right preventive measures and taking care when affected to help the individual feel better within a few days or weeks. However, in severe cases, it is better to visit a hospital and get the right treatment to ensure it does not take a toll on the body.

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