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What Are the Signs of Botulism Food Poisoning?

A. Pasbjerg
A. Pasbjerg

People who eat food contaminated with the bacterium Clostridium botulinum will typically start developing signs of the muscle paralysis it causes within 12 to 36 hours of ingestion, though symptoms can take as long as 10 days to appear. They may notice problems with their vision, such as blurring or doubling, and there is often weakness in the face, mouth, and throat, which can lead to issues such as slurred speech, trouble swallowing, or difficulty breathing. Many people experience abdominal pain or nausea and vomiting. For infants, the signs of botulism food poisoning are normally somewhat different than in adults, and usually include constipation, trouble feeding, and a floppy, weak body. In all cases, if treatment is not given promptly, the result will be overall paralysis.

Often, the first signs of muscle paralysis caused by botulism food poisoning start at the top of the body. Facial muscles may become weak and droopy. Affected people may have trouble controlling their mouths and throats, leading to slurred speech, problems swallowing, and even trouble breathing. They may also stop displaying a gag reflex.

Vision problems are frequently a sign of botulism food poisoning. Sufferers may notice their vision beginning to blur, or images may double. As their muscles begin to freeze, they may also find their eyelids drooping and affecting their sight.

Digestive issues can also be a sign of botulism food poisoning. After eating contaminated food, one may experience abdominal pain or cramping. The bacteria may also cause a feeling of nausea and lead to vomiting.

Botulism food poisoning often causes severe vomiting.
Botulism food poisoning often causes severe vomiting.

While these symptoms are often indicative of botulism food poisoning in children or adults, infants may show different signs, starting with constipation, which is very common. They are often tired, weak, and their muscles become floppy and have poor tone. Their eyelids are often droopy and they may drool frequently. Sick infants may also have trouble holding up their heads, and sucking and feeding can be very difficult for them. They are also typically irritable, but their crying is usually weak.

If a person does not recognize that he or she has botulism food poisoning quickly and gets medical attention, muscle weakness will normally progress to full-blown paralysis. Often, it will progress down the body, moving from the head and neck to the arms, trunk, and legs. Eventually, the lungs will become paralyzed, which can then lead to death.

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    • Botulism food poisoning often causes severe vomiting.
      By: Lars Zahner
      Botulism food poisoning often causes severe vomiting.