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Patients with mild food poisoning may experience diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting that typically start to resolve within three days. People may recover at home from mild food poisoning without any particular medical treatment beyond fluids and rest to support the immune system. If symptoms become severe or persist for more than three days, the attention of a doctor may be required. The doctor can evaluate the situation and determine if the patient needs medication or hospitalization for severe food poisoning.
Cases of mild food poisoning can be the result of infectious organisms or toxins in food, usually because the food was handled poorly or not prepared appropriately. Some examples can include Salmonella in undercooked chicken and toxins in seafood harvested during algal blooms. Patients may start to notice warning signs within hours, although it can take several days for some organisms to cause symptoms of disease.
Nausea is typically the first warning sign, along with abdominal pain and cramping. The patient might also feel dizzy, feverish, and irritable. As the mild food poisoning continues, the patient can start vomiting and may develop diarrhea. Fluid replacement is important, to make sure the patient does not become dehydrated during the episode of food poisoning. If patients cannot keep any fluids down, the case may be more severe.
Within three days of the onset of symptoms, the patient should start feeling better. Mild food poisoning can cause some lingering nausea and fatigue for up to ten days, but the vomiting and diarrhea should stop as the patient passes through the worst of the episode. Patients may also notice that they are more sensitive to some smells, and experience revulsion when exposed to the foods that made them ill. Someone who got sick after eating potato salad, for example, might lose a taste for it for several weeks or months.
Signs that food poisoning may be more severe can include an extremely high fever, bloody vomit or diarrhea, or disorientation. Patients who have difficulty walking, cannot be roused from a heavy sleep, or appear unusually distressed may need medical treatment. Persistent diarrhea and vomiting that do not allow a patient to retain fluids are also a cause for concern. A care provider like a doctor or nurse can check the patient, collect samples for testing, and make more aggressive treatment recommendations. It can be helpful to provide a list of recent meals, in case the food poisoning is the result of contaminated food that might be subject to recall.