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Help! I have a tummy bug 🤢

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

Unfortunately, vomiting and diarrhoea are quite common in babies, children and adults. This is why we really need to know what to do if we, or someone we care about, is struck with a nasty bug, as well as knowing when it’s time to see the doctor. Sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea happen together, but they can happen on their own either. When vomiting/diarrhoea are caused by a bug, it is referred to as gastroenteritis. So if you have ever heard anyone, like your doctor, use that term before and did not know what it really meant – now you know!

A ‘stomach bug’ usually comes from food or through close contact with someone who already has the virus (so if someone has a stomach bug – they should really be staying away from everyone)! Diarrhoea and/or vomiting are usually caused by food poisoning, ‘Norovirus’, or a stomach bug. There are other causes of vomiting/diarrhoea also, for example, some antibiotics can cause diarrhoea as a side effect. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor if you think you are suffering from side effects of a medication, or if you think you may be pregnant and suffering from morning sickness. Ig you have any concerns, see your GP/Pharmacist. This article is just dealing with viral diarrhoea/vomiting bugs.

The cure? Unfortunately when it comes to gastroenteritis, there is no real cure, and often you just have to wait for the symptoms to pass. However, in the meantime, it is very important to treat your symptoms and to remain well hydrated, as you will be losing fluid and electrolytes through vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

How to treat diarrhoea/vomiting at home


First things first: if you have diarrhoea as part of your stomach bug, it is best if you do not take an antidiarrheal medication, unless you really have somewhere to be, like if you have a flight or something urgent to attend to, and only under the advice of a pharmacist/GP.

Diarrhoea is your body’s reaction to the bug and its attempt to clear the body of the harmful virus. Taking an antidiarrheal (like loperamide), will not treat the cause of the diarrhoea, and may cause the virus/bacteria to linger around in your body for longer. Note that this is not with reference to people who have problems with their gastrointestinal system (stomach and gut), such as those who suffer from Irritable bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis). This is just with reference to mild-moderate viral stomach bugs.

The single most important thing with diarrhoea is to drink plenty of fluids and avoid dehydration. Oral rehydration solutions are very useful in this instance, and have been shown by the World Health Organisation to reduce the number of deaths due to diarrhoea. Oral rehydration therapy ensures that despite that constant loss of fluid that occurs when we have viral gastroenteritis, we can stay hydrated. The sugars and salts present in the solution that you make up ensure you are much more hydrated than if you just had water alone. You can purchase sachets/effervescent tablets that you put into water in your local pharmacy, and sometimes even in large supermarkets, if they have a health section and health stores. The ones sold in pharmacies will have the exact right concentration of sugars and salts that you need to rehydrate.

Above are an example of oral rehydration salts which will help rehydrate you when there is a risk of dehydration, such as in diarrhoea, vomiting, excessive sweating (even for after an intense workout/sweat session like hot yoga or a spin class)!

Tips for dealing with a bout of vomiting/diarrhoea:

1. Stay at home, away from other people (who you could spread it to), and rest up. Let your body recover.

2. Drink plenty of fluids, and make sure to have oral rehydration therapy (the special salts I mentioned above!) dissolved in water. If you also feel sick, take small little sips at a time/if your child is sick, give them tiny sips at a time. Keep the oral rehydration solution in the fridge if you cannot handle it all at once and try to finish it all within a few hours.

3. Eat if/when you feel able to – don’t feel like you have to eat certain foods or avoid certain foods. – just once you manage to eat something substantial while feeling sick you are doing quite well!

4. Take paracetamol if you have pains/a slight fever and it should help with that. Read the package leaflet for dosage for adults, and if giving a paediatric paracetamol to your child, make sure to stick strictly to the. dosage on the package leaflet. Make sure you do not use more than one paracetamol-containing product at a time, and if you are not sure if you are already taking paracetamol, check with your pharmacist.

5. If your child is sick and you are breast/bottle-feeding them, continue to do so, giving smaller feeds, more often than usual (little and often!)

What NOT to do when you have diarrhoea/are vomiting:

1. Do not drink carbonated/fizzy drinks, or any juices – they will make your diarrhoea worse!

2. Do not take medicine for diarrhoea or vomiting unless under the advice of your doctor/pharmacist. Do not give antidiarrheal medication to children under the age of 16. Just make sure they are well hydrated.

3. Do not make weaker baby formula – make it as you usually would, just feed your child less amounts but more frequently

Spotlight question: How long do vomiting/diarrhoea viruses normally last?

Usually diarrhoea caused by gastroenteritis lasts approximately 3 days, but can last up to 7 days. Vomiting usually lasts 1-2 days.

Remember, you are highly contagious from when your symptoms start until 2 days afterwards. It is important that you stay off work or school for two days after symptoms have stopped, to avoid the spread of the virus.

Make sure to practice good hygiene by:

1. Washing hands regularly with warm, soapy water

2.Washing soiled clothing in a separate, high temperature wash

3. Disinfecting all surfaces such as countertops, door handles, sinks, toilet seats etc regularly.

When you have a stomach bug, avoid:

1. Preparing food for other people

2. Sharing towels, cutlery, cups/glasses, food/drink

3. Do not use a swimming pool for several days after symptoms stop.

You are contagious from when you first start to feel unwell to a few days after you recover from your symptoms (2-3 days after symptoms have subsided). It is important to take extra precaution during these days and not come into contact with vulnerable people, such as visiting an elderly person, a young baby, or visiting a sick person either at home or in hospital. Practice good hygiene, and do not prepare food for others (someone else will have to make dinner - oh well)!

When to see a Pharmacist if you have vomiting/diarrhoea:

A pharmacist can help if you or your child have signs of dehydration such as dark yellow, smelly urine, or peeing less often than usual. The pharmacist can also help you if you need to stop having diarrhoea for a couple of hours. They may recommend oral rehydration salts (as mentioned), and/or an antidiarrheal agent.

Three pharmacists smiling in a dispensary
Make sure to visit your local pharmacy if you have concerns about your wellbeing or the wellbeing of a loved one.

When to seek advice from Emergency Services:

· If you have a baby under 12 months old and are worried about them

· If your child stops bottle or breast feeding while they are ill

· If a child under 5 years old has signs of dehydration such as less frequent wet nappies, and/or smelly wet nappies.

· If you or your child are continuously vomiting and cannot keep fluid down

· If you or your child experience any blood in your diarrhoea or if there is bleeding in the anal area.

· If you or your child continue to be dehydrated (showing signs of dehydration).

· If you or your child are vomiting for more than 2 days or have diarrhoea for more than 7 days.

When to go straight to the Emergency Department:

· The vomit looks like ground coffee or has blood in it. Or if it is green or yellow in colour.

· If you think you may have swallowed something poisonous.

· If you have a stiff neck and pain when looking at bright lights.

. If you have a sudden, severe abdominal pain or headache.

I hope this helps if you needed some guidance on what to do when you have a tummy bug. If you do have one, and are reading this, I am sending you all of the good vibes, and wishing you a speedy recovery! Make sure to speak to your pharmacist about your options, especially if you are struggling to stay hydrated. This is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare professional, but hopefully can guide you in the right path!

Mind yourself this winter! What do you do when you have a tummy bug? Let me know!

Lauren x

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