Stomach viruses or “stomach flu” can hit at any time of year, though they seem especially common in the winter. You come down with this illness when a virus infects your stomach and intestinal lining, which causes the lining to become inflamed and irritated. This, in turn, leads to the familiar “stomach bug” symptoms: cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue.
Help Your Body Battle the Bug
Because it is a viral infection, antibiotics don’t help. Unless symptoms are especially severe or last more than two or three days, you probably don’t need to go to the doctor. The best thing to do is to stay home from work or school. Get plenty of rest, drink liquids, and let your body fight off the virus.
What you eat and drink while you are ill and shortly after can help you recover faster and avoid the return of unpleasant symptoms. Your body needs nutrition and hydration while it does battle with the virus, so it’s important to take in whatever liquids and calories will stay down. However, you should also avoid foods that can increase inflammation in your digestive system.
Staying Hydrated is Critical
If you vomit, swish plain water around your mouth once the vomiting stops. This will get rid of the taste and rinse the stomach acids from your teeth. Don’t brush your teeth immediately after vomiting — when you have acid in your mouth this can actually do more damage. Also, the strong flavors in most toothpaste can set off nausea and vomiting again.
Avoid eating or drinking anything, even water, for one to two hours after you have vomited. Then try drinking small sips of water and see if it stays down. If it does, drink some more water or clear juice like apple juice. You can also drink sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade) or rehydration drinks (Pedialyte) to replace lost electrolytes.
Some people find clear sodas or ginger ale to be soothing. If you try a soda, drink it at room temperature, without ice. Pour it into a glass and let it sit for a few minutes to allow some of the carbonation to subside. A drink that is too cold or too fizzy can shock your system and trigger more vomiting.
At this stage, the most important thing is to stay hydrated. Drink water even if you are also able to drink juice and other drinks. You can go without food much longer than water, and severe vomiting and diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration.
Avoid drinking colas or any other drinks with caffeine. If you have been vomiting a lot or experiencing multiple bouts of diarrhea, you are already at risk of becoming dehydrated. Caffeine stimulates urination, and right now you want to keep fluids inside your body as much as possible. Avoid any alcoholic beverages until you are fully recovered, because alcohol also dehydrates your body.
If you go a full day without being able to keep liquids down, have a fever above 104 degrees, or if you continue to have vomiting and diarrhea for more than two days, it’s time to get more medical attention. If your regular doctor cannot see you immediately, go to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room.
Good Food Choices for Recovery
Once you have been able to keep liquids down for more than six hours, try eating small amounts of bland food. Good options include:
- Soda crackers
- Plain toast (white bread)
- Plain pasta (white flour)
- White rice
- Flavored gelatin
- Ice pops
Avoid brown rice and whole-grain bread or pasta at this stage. These are harder to digest. Right you want to eat foods that break down quickly to get nutrients into circulation, with minimal stress on your digestive system.
Try just a bite or two at first and see how your body reacts. If you feel strongly nauseated or vomit again, stop eating. Go back to liquids and try again later.
Once you can keep a few bites down, continue eating these foods in small servings, every few hours. When you have gone a full day without vomiting, you can add more complex foods that are still easy on your system: soup, eggs, baked potatoes, baked lean meats like chicken or turkey, and well-cooked vegetables.
Stay away from dairy, spicy foods, or foods that are high in fat or fiber for at least two days after symptoms go away. Even if you are no longer throwing up or having diarrhea, your system is still stressed and irritated. Throwing challenging foods into the mix can cause your symptoms to start up again. Taking it easy on your body for a couple of days will ultimately help you bounce back faster.