It’s that time of year! The Stomach Flu is in full effect! The weather is beginning to change and some of those bad bugs are making their way around. The best way to prevent infections is to practice good hygiene – WASH. YOUR. HANDS! The virus that is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis, commonly known as the stomach flu, can survive on surfaces for up to SIX WEEKS! Here’s the kicker – you can actually be contagious up to 24 hours BEFORE you show any symptoms at all! So you can be happily sharing the joy before the party even starts!
If you’ve already missed the boat and have become ill, there are some things that you can do to expedite the healing process… If there is vomiting going on, the first thing you want to do is try to stay hydrated – carefully! GO SLOWLY! Although you may be desperately thirsty, overdoing it too quickly may cause you to vomit everything right back up and then some! The stomach can become overly distended, contract violently and force everything in the path of least resistance – straight back up! This is especially true in the case of small infants or children. I’m talking give them only a spoonful of liquid every 5- 10 minutes for a bit or you may regret it. Start with CLEAR LIQUIDS like water or an oral rehydrating or electrolyte solution. Did you know that you can make your own at home and you probably already have all of the ingredients that you need?! To 1 liter of water add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar (or honey if 1 year of age or older- do NOT give honey to children under 1yo!). Isn’t that easy?! and NO artificial flavors or colors in the mix! If the taste is too off putting, you can add a splash of juice to better mask the flavor.
The beauty of water and properly balanced electrolyte solutions is they can be absorbed directly by the stomach lining without being processed. This way the hydration goes straight in to the blood stream. Dehydration in the very young and very old is what is dangerous about illnesses like the stomach flu. Once you’re able to tolerate a little bit of liquid, add activated charcoal to the mix. Activated charcoal can safely absorb all the bad stuff in your gut and help escort it right on out of your system and help abort the illness a little more quickly. Just add it to the rehydration solution that you made. It also comes in capsule form for those that can swallow pills and capsules. Activated charcoal can stain so handle it carefully. If all you have on hand is the capsule, carefully crack it open and empty the contents into your rehydration solution. It has no taste at all but remember to put it in a liquid in a dark or opaque straw/sippy cup if you have picky kid that might be thrown off by the dark color.
Once you’re no longer vomiting, we can address the diarrhea aspect. Typically in younger kids vomiting lasts for 4 – 24 hours but then they can develop diarrhea that can last for several days. The diarrhea can be greatly alleviated by high quality probiotics (powdered form is available, too). If you’re already taking probiotics, bump it up to twice a day until we get over this hump. Also, be mindful of juice – especially apple juice as the increased sugar load to your system can actually cause more diarrhea. Water it down tremendously if you give it. Also, stay away from cow’s milk for now as you can temporarily lose your ability to process and digest lactose found in milk (breast milk is okay). The cells that line your intestines have what’s called a brush border made up of cells with tiny hair like projections, microvilli. These produce lactase, the enzyme that digests the main carbohydrate in milk, lactose. During an illness like the stomach flu, you can lose your brush border and its activity temporarily. Since your brush border is gone, drinking cow’s milk can then provoke more diarrhea because your intestines are not properly able to process the lactose.
Once you are tolerating liquids by mouth, then you may begin to start slowly advancing the diet. For instance, maybe start with soup (made with bone broth would be great), then add bland things like potatoes, rice, etc. Once your comfortable, you can return to your regular diet. Remember preventing dehydration is most important. Your full appetite may not return for a day or two but as long as your drinking (oral rehydration solution) and keeping it down you’re on the right track. Signs of dehydration can include decreased urination (decreased number of wet diapers in infants and young children), dry mouth, sunken eyes, lethargy, or crying without tears. If you’re not sure, call your primary doctor’s advice line. There should be a doctor or nurse on call after hours that can chat with you and help you determine if you’re headed in the right direction or if you need to be seen immediately, or in the office in the morning.
Has the vomiting become green or bloody? Go straight to an Emergency Department! Do not pass go, do not collect $200! If your child is the sicky-poo in question, try to take them to a Children’s Hospital or at least a hospital with a Pediatric Ward or Department. Kids are NOT short adults! Their physiology and medical needs can be totally different! Children’s Hospitals are better equipped and better trained in treating kids. They will have smaller equipment and nursing staff more adept at drawing blood from their tiny veins if need be. Of course, any hospital is better than no hospital but if you have time to make a choice, choose wisely.
Be sure to wipe down and sterilize EVERYTHING! Toilets, toilet handles, sinks, sink handles, door knobs, diaper changing stations, toys (especially if you have children that tend to put things in their mouths), pacifiers, any surface area that you can think of that you may have come in contact with before and during this spell to keep it from ping ponging around your house.
Happy Healthy Living!
Until next time….
Take Home Tidbits
- Stomach Flu viruses can survive on surfaces for SIX WEEKS
- Rehydration is key – go slow!
- Activated charcoal powder or capsules can help calm the symptoms
- Probiotics help stop diarrhea. (powdered form is available, too)
- Green or bloody vomiting? Go to an Emergency Department in a hospital immediately
Questions? Comments? Ask me below.
The Doctor is in!