Diarrhea or vomiting caused by contaminated food usually lasts no longer than 24 hours. To avoid dehydration, drink water or weak tea, taking a sip every 15 minutes if you have trouble keeping anything down. Continue with a liquid diet for 24 hours; only then return gradually to bland solids. Medication is rarely necessary.
Consult a doctor if you suspect food poisoning in a child under 3 or if anyone’s symptoms last longer than 2 days or are unusually severe. Get emergency medical help if watery diarrhea strikes every 10 or 15 minutes, if it contains blood or mucus, or if abdominal pain or fever is constant.
A rare, life-threatening form of food poisoning is botulism. Nausea and vomiting begin 12 to 36 hours after eating a toxin-containing food; they are followed by muscle weakness, dryness of mouth and throat, blurred vision, unsteadiness, and difficulty in swallowing, speaking, and breathing. Immediate hospitalization is the only course. Try to identify the food, which may be a canned fruit, fish, or vegetable product; the food may be soft, contain gas bubbles, and smell foul. Take a sample of the food you suspect to the hospital.