Saturday 22 July 2023

How Is Food Poisoning Treated?

 Medically reviewed by Robert Burakoff, MD

Food poisoning is a common condition that occurs when you eat food or drink beverages that are contaminated. The condition can produce a wide range of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever.

Approximately 48 million people in the United States fall ill each year due to food poisoning. In most cases, food poisoning symptoms will naturally resolve within a few days. But some cases may be more severe. Fortunately, there are several treatment options that can help you improve symptoms, including medications and home remedies.

At-Home Remedies

Lifestyle modifications that you can make at home are generally the first line of treatment for food poisoning. If you are experiencing symptoms, it could help to temporarily change your diet and increase your intake of fluids.

Food poisoning can make it difficult to tolerate solid foods. Your healthcare provider may suggest eating a bland diet that may include:

Generally, bland foods are those that are soft to digest, low in fiber, and mildly seasoned or not spicy. While you're eating bland foods, it may also help to avoid eating foods that are greasy, fried, or high in fat.

Food poisoning can also cause you to lose fluids and electrolytes due to episodes of vomiting or diarrhea. In such cases, you should replenish the loss of fluids by increasing your fluid intake. This helps improve symptoms and reduce your risk of becoming dehydrated. Your healthcare provider may recommend the following options:


If at-home remedies aren't helping you alleviate symptoms, medications may provide some relief. Talk to your healthcare provider if symptoms don't resolve within a few days. They may recommend medicines such as antiemetics or antidiarrheals, among others.


Antiemetic medications help control nausea and vomiting, while also preventing dehydration that may occur as a result of vomiting. Your healthcare provider may recommend the following medicines:

  • Zofran (ondansetron): Prevents your brain from triggering you to feel nausea
  • Compazine (prochlorperazine): Helps relieve nausea and prevents vomiting


Diarrhea is a common symptom of food poisoning that can lead to dehydration. Antidiarrheal medications help to slow down the frequency of your bowel movements, or how often you feel the need to poop. Talk to your healthcare provider before using antidiarrheal medications, as they are not suitable for certain types of food poisoning or people who have a high fever or bloody stools (poops).

It is important to note that while antidiarrheal medications can provide temporary relief of symptoms, they do not address the underlying cause of food poisoning. If your provider thinks antidiarrheal medications may help you, they can suggest the following medications:

  • Imodium (loperamide): An over-the-counter (OTC) medicine that slows down the movement of your intestines and reduces how often you need to use the bathroom
  • Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate): Relieves diarrhea, improves loose or watery stools, and reduces stomach cramps associated with diarrhea


Antibiotics are helpful in treating bacterial infections. In most cases, food poisoning does not occur as a result of a bacterial infection. However, certain bacterial infections, such as salmonella, can cause symptoms of food poisoning. Before receiving antibiotics, your healthcare provider will have to first confirm that you have a bacterial infection, like salmonella.

If tests show that a bacterial infection is at the root of your symptoms, your provider may prescribe antibiotics such as Zithromax (azithromycin) to improve symptoms and rid your body of the bacteria.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

While at-home remedies and medications typically improve symptoms in most cases, some people may want to explore complementary and alternative medicine approaches. These may include:

  • Taking probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help restore the natural balance of gut flora in your stomach. Food poisoning can affect the number of healthy gut bacteria that you have—and probiotics can restore this balance. You can find probiotics in certain yogurts or in the form of supplements.
  • Herbal remedies: Some herbal remedies may have soothing properties that can help you recover from food poisoning. Research suggests that ginger, chamomile, and peppermint may all support your health as you recover from food poisoning. Keep in mind: it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before trying herbal remedies. As with almost all supplements, they are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for every person.

Living With and Managing Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can feel very uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to improve symptoms. It may also feel comforting to know that foodborne illnesses, or infections you can develop after eating contaminated food, are usually short-term and resolve quickly.

To reduce symptoms, it's crucial to focus on hydration and replenishing lost fluids. Drinking plenty of water and other clear liquids can help prevent dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. You should also avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages as they can further dehydrate the body. Rest and self-care are also essential during the healing process. Taking time off from work, pausing daily activities, and getting more sleep can help your body recover and regain strength.

It's important to note that specific populations can also be at an increased risk of developing foodborne illnesses, making them more prone to falling ill from contaminated food. If they do experience symptoms, their symptoms tend to be more severe. These groups include:

  • Pregnant or expecting people
  • Children below the age of 5
  • People over the age of 65
  • Those who have an autoimmune condition or are immunocompromised

If symptoms worsen or persist, it's good practice to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. They can provide appropriate advice, monitor your condition, and suggest additional treatments to prevent complications from occurring.

A Quick Review

Food poisoning occurs when you eat or drink something that is contaminated. Symptoms of food poisoning may include nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. That said, treatment focuses on improving symptoms, preventing complications, and promoting a speedy recovery. Your treatment options may include drinking more fluids, taking certain medications, eating a bland diet, and getting plenty of rest as your body heals.

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