Everybody, at one point or another, is at the mercy of their gastrointestinal tract. To have gastroenteritis is to be steeped in wretchedness.
While “blowing groceries”, “making pavement pizza”, and “praying to the porcelain god” almost always gets better on its own after a few days, trouble ensues if you lose too much fluid. And while most of us can drink enough to keep up with the fluid lost from diarrhea, it’s easy to get dehydrated from the pukes; you simply can’t keep up with the fluid losses.
What should you do?
Drink – but sip, don’t chug. A few tablespoons every fifteen minutes can be enough to keep you going. What should you drink? Not alcohol. Dairy can be misery-inducing even if you normally don’t have lactose issues. Really sugary stuff like juice can be irritating; cut it with a bit of water. Popsicles or Jello are okay. Pedialyte or other oral rehydration solution taste nasty, but can be really helpful. You can make your own by adding 8 teaspoons of sugar (8 sugar packets) and 1 teaspoon of salt (more or less) to 3 cups of water and 1 cup of orange juice. You might want to avoid anything with a lot of red or orange dye in it because of the damage the dye can do… to your carpeting and pajamas.
Increase the amount of liquid you drink as the vomiting settles down. Food isn’t a big deal, at least for the first 24 hours or so, but liquids are key. Once liquids stay down and you feel a little hungry, start eating. There’s a lot of mythology out there about how to advance the diet. Really, anything goes, but be sensible and gentle. A giant plate of spaghetti with hot sauce isn’t going to feel very good but a small plate of pasta, will probably be fine. In fact, starchy things-crackers, mashed potatoes, rice, oatmeal, etc.-are a good way to get back on the road to a normal diet.
And please, spare your roommates. Wash up your spew if at all possible. Wash your hands. Don’t use somebody else’s spoon or fork, towel or toothbrush.
When should you worry?
- Bloody vomit or stools
- Fever greater than 101 degrees
- Vomiting persisting over 24-36 hours
- Severe or localized abdominal pain
- No urination for more than 8 hours
- Weakness and lethargy
Victoria Rentel, MD (Ohio State University Student Health Services)