Symptoms depend on the type of food poisoning
Because there are many different types of food poisoning, food poisoning symptoms also vary from case to case.
Bacterial food poisoning
Food poisoning usually comes from eating foods that contain germs like bad bacteria or viruses which end up in the gastrointestinal tract, where they produce poisonous substances called toxins. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea are classic symptoms of bacterial food poisoning. The exact symptoms, their severity, the duration of the symptoms and their rate of progression depend on the bacterium or virus causing the poisoning.
Chemical food poisoning
Chemical food poisoning is less common than bacterial poisoning, but often more severe. Chemical food poisoning is caused by the consumption of foods containing natural toxins, such as certain types of wild mushrooms, algae or fungi. Chemical food poisoning can also be caused by the presence of chemicals in food, such as pesticides, fertiliser and PCBs in packaging materials.
Warning signs to get medical help
Food poisoning can make you very ill. In most cases, the symptoms pass in a few days without the need to see the doctor. However, there are warning signs that the body experiences that are clear signals that you should seek medical help. For example, if you have signs of dehydration because you are vomiting or have diarrhoea. You should also contact a doctor if your symptoms haven’t clear up after four days. Symptoms that indicate you may be experiencing chemical food poisoning are also a sign to seek medical attention. And if you are pregnant, you shouldn’t take any chances with your health. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you think you may have food poisoning.
Below we have listed the general symptoms of food poisoning. We also explain what the symptoms of mushroom poisoning and botulism, a serious and potentially fatal form of food poisoning, are.
How to recognise food poisoning
Food poisoning causes the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can last from a day to several days. The vomit may contain undigested food.
- Watery diarrhoea. Three or more bathroom visits a day is not uncommon. Stool may be coated with bloody mucus.
- Stomach ache and abdominal cramps. Vomiting or a bowel movement can cause the cramps to worsen.
- Fever and cold tremors. Fever may cause mild to moderate headache. Weakness due to diarrhoea and fever can cause painful muscles and joints.
- Dehydration. Prolonged bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting can result in dehydration, causing symptoms like a dry mouth and tongue, dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, tiredness, a decreased need to urinate, and sunken eyes. Severe dehydration is characterised by sluggishness, confusion, a racing heartbeat, and coma. This is a medical emergency.
Symptoms of botulism, a serious form of food poisoning
- Dry mouth and throat
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
- Muscle paralysis (as botulism progresses, the patient experiences paralysis from top to bottom, starting with the eyes, neck, and face and moving to the throat, chest. Speech disturbances are not uncommon)
- Muscle paralysis can lead to death due to cardiac and respiratory arrest
All forms of botulism, infant botulism in particular, can be fatal and should be considered medical emergencies.
What are the symptoms of chemical food poisoning?
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- Excessive sweating
- Excessive saliva formation
- Teary eyes
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Last updated on July 14, 2016.