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Is It Really Food Poisoning?

It could be intolerance to a certain food, or just stomach irritation.
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What Else Can Cause Nausea and Vomiting?

Sometimes, bacteria are blamed unfairly, Solnick and other experts say. "You can be intolerant of something," Solnick says. For instance, those with lactose intolerance have trouble digesting the lactose sugar found in milk. Those who are gluten sensitive have intolerance to wheat.

You could also have a stomach virus or gastroenteritis, a condition that leads to irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines triggered by infection, says Jason Dees, DO, a family physician in New Albany, Miss., and a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

"With food poisoning and gastroenteritis, the symptoms can look like each other," Dees says. "Differentiating the two can be really difficult."

How Do You Know if It's Food Poisoning?

"A lot of times it is not possible to confirm one way or the other if it's food poisoning," Burkhart says.

But doctors will try, taking a careful history, which can yield clues. For instance, Burkhart says if symptoms start before you’ve even finished the meal -- your stomach starts to feel queasy -- it's a good guess you've been infected with an organism that causes food-borne illness.

If everyone who has eaten at the same picnic or restaurant is suddenly sick, that, too, points to food poisoning.

Food Poisoning: What Can You Do to Self-Treat?

If the food-borne illness is mild, you can treat yourself and wait for symptoms to pass, experts say. You can lower a slight fever with acetaminophen. (Call a doctor for high fevers.)

Keep yourself (or your child) hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. "Make sure you take frequent sips of water, or drink clear soups, clear sodas, or juice mixed with water," Dees says.

You can also buy oral rehydration solutions, such as CeraLyte, Oralyte, and Pedialyte. "That has the right mix of all the salt, sugar, and other nutrients you lose when you have diarrhea or vomiting," Dees says.

Dee says many sports drinks don’t have the ideal balance of electrolytes, and should be avoided.

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