Stomach Bugs: How to Feel Better Fast

A doctor might call it food poisoning, stomach flu, Norovirus, Gastroenteritis, or stomach upset. Anyone experiencing it would simply call it miserable. Illnesses that cause vomiting and nausea often become cyclic when the irritated stomach lining cannot tolerate any food or liquids. This can result in dangerous dehydration and a long, slow recovery. There are steps you can take to recover as quickly as possible, taking advantage of over-the-counter items such as electrolyte solutions and peppermint.

The War Chest

These are essential tools to battle the misery of cyclic vomiting and nausea:

  • Unflavored oral electrolyte solution (sold as Pedialyte or generic brands in the infant section of most grocery stores and chain pharmacies). Purchase a minimum of four to six bottles to avoid further trips to the store.
  • Peppermint extract. This is found in the baking aisle of the grocery store. Look for pure or natural extract (peppermint in an alcohol solution), without added ingredients. Avoid anything labeled artificial or imitation extract. You’ll need one small bottle.
  • Peppermint tea. Look for pure peppermint if possible, but mint blends including peppermint are acceptable. Do not buy sweetened or artificially flavored tea.
  • BRAT diet foods, which include Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. You can also include gelatin mix (not pudding), cream of rice, and cream of wheat hot cereals.

Stomach Bugs

Day One: Electrolytes and Peppermint

Because your stomach is already irritated, don’t try to eat at all on the first day of treatment. Instead, focus on drinking at least two bottles of oral electrolyte solution. Take it in small sips at a time over the course of several hours. Because cold substances can trigger vomiting, drink at least the first bottle at room temperature and do not add ice. Store any remaining solution in the refrigerator overnight.

Peppermint is a natural anti-emetic (anti-nausea) and soothes the digestive system. It is also effective against bloating and cramps associated with diarrhea. Tea might not settle well on the first day, but the peppermint extract can deliver concentrated peppermint oil without triggering nausea. Simply dip the end of a toothpick into the bottle of extract, and suck the oil from the toothpick. The flavor is very intense and most people can only tolerate this small amount at one time. Follow with small sips of electrolyte solution. Repeat every hour whenever you’re awake.

Finally, try to sleep as much as possible and avoid exertion. The more you rest, the better your body is able to muster resources toward healing.

Day Two: Adding Peppermint Tea

In addition to two bottles of electrolyte solution, you may be able to tolerate peppermint tea by the second day. At first, try a small amount and wait 30 minutes to see if it upsets your stomach. If you can tolerate it, drink several cups throughout the day as you’re able. Your goal for the second day is to rest and rehydrate. If you’re not able to tolerate the tea, continue to drink only the electrolyte solution. Try the tea again after 24 hours.

Day Three: Adding BRAT Foods

Once you have not vomited for 24 hours and have tolerated the peppermint tea for at least 12 hours, you can attempt to introduce solid food. The standard diet for stomach upset is called the BRAT diet, because it consists of Bananas, Rice (plain, no seasonings), Applesauce, and Toast (white, plain, no butter or jam). These simple, easy-to-digest foods let your body ease back into the handling of solids gradually. You can add gelatin (Jello or generic brands) as well as cream of rice or cream of wheat hot cereal. At first, try a small amount of one thing (a few tablespoons of applesauce or a few bites of toast) and wait 30 minutes to see whether your stomach will react badly. If you feel nauseous or vomit, only drink electrolyte solution and peppermint tea for another 24 hours. If you can tolerate the food, eat small amounts at a time, spaced out over several hours. Continue to avoid very cold foods and foods that contain dairy, protein, fiber, large amounts of sugar, strong seasonings, and other hard-to-digest substances. Absolutely avoid caffeine, as it is a strong stomach irritant. Stick to the BRAT foods.

Continue to drink the oral electrolyte solution, but you may be able to mix it with water by the third day to take in more liquid and save money. Continue to drink the peppermint tea throughout the day.

How Long Does It Take?

It may take more (or less) than three days to work your way back up to solid food, but it is important to resist the temptation to rush the process. If you push too far and trigger vomiting, you will have to start the recovery cycle all over again. Once you have spent one to two days on the BRAT diet, you can gradually introduce more complex foods such as plain chicken or some butter on the toast. Work gradually back into your regular diet, and listen to your body’s needs and responses to foods. When moving to a more complex food, try a small amount and wait 30 minutes to check for nausea. If you experience nausea, wait 24 hours to try that food again.

Once you can tolerate dairy, consider eating at least one yogurt with active culture each day to replace beneficial bacteria in your intestines lost during the illness. Live, active culture supplements are also available in pill form if you have a lactose or casein intolerance.

When to See A Doctor

While there is nothing a doctor can do for the most common vomiting illnesses (except recommend rest and fluids), there are a few instances where you should seek medical treatment. See a doctor or urgent care if:

  • The ill person is a young child, elderly person, or immune-compromised
  • You do not start to feel better after three days
  • You have a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 Celsius) or higher
  • There is blood in your vomit or stool
  • You experience uncontrollable vomiting that does not stop after a few minutes

If you have insurance or can afford an office visit, there are prescription anti-emetics (anti-nausea) drugs available. Many are not effective for all people or have side effects including severe headaches. Over-the-counter anti-emetics include pink bismuth (such as Pepto-Bismol) and antihistamines used to treat motion-sickness. Taking any medication for the first two days may irritate the stomach, but you can try a small amount to see if you can tolerate them.