Early symptoms of botulism

The early symptoms of botulism appear 12 to 36 hours following the consumption of pre-formed, potent, dangerous botulinum toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum in contaminated home-canned foods – including asparagus, green beans, spinach, mushrooms, and beets; fish, such as canned tuna, fermented, salted and smoked fish; and meat products, like ham and sausage. Additionally, infants may develop botulism if they ingest Clostridium botulinum spores (possibly from honey but most likely from exposure to contaminated soil). Furthermore, wound botulism takes place when the spores infiltrate an open wound and multiply in an anaerobic environment. The symptoms vary depending on the type of infection.

Botulism symptoms


·         Problems swallowing or speaking.

·         Dryness of mouth.

·         Weakness on both sides of the face.

·         Blurry or double vision.

·         Drooping eyelids.

·         Difficulty breathing.

·         Nausea.

·         Vomiting.

·         Stomach cramps.

·         Paralysis.


·         Constipation.

·         Floppy movements caused by muscle weakness.

·         Difficulty controlling the head.

·         Weak cry.

·         Irritability.

·         Drooling.

·         Dropping eyelids.

·         Tiredness.

·         Trouble sucking or feeding.

·         Paralysis.

·         Lethargy.


·         Problems swallowing or speaking.

·         Weakness on both sides of the face.

·         Blurry or double vision.

·         Drooping eyelids.

·         Difficulty breathing.

·         Paralysis.


Botulinum toxins are rather deadly substances that block nerve functions and cause muscular and respiratory paralysis – the latter being the main cause of botulism-related death, as the affected person cannot breathe. Needless to say, diagnosing and treating botulism is of the utmost importance and time is of the essence. Therefore, the doctor will rely primarily on the patient’s clinical history and a physical examination to check for drooping eyelids, a weak voice, and other signs of muscle weakness or paralysis. In addition to that, lab tests can confirm the presence of botulinum toxin in serum, stool or food, as well as a culture of Clostridium botulinum from stool, wound or food. Finally, a brain scan, spinal fluid examination, nerve conduction test (electromyography, or EMG), and a tensilon test for myasthenia gravis may have to be performed to discard other conditions such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, stroke, and myasthenia gravis, which can all resemble the early symptoms of botulism.

Treatment for botulism

·         Antitoxin

Injected as soon as possible after a foodborne or wound botulism diagnosis to reduce complications and mortality. Botulism immune globulin is administered for infant botulism.

·         Antibiotics

Recommended exclusively for wound botulism.

·         Respiratory assistance

Patients who have difficulty breathing nay have to be put on a mechanical ventilator.

·         Rehabilitation

The aforementioned antitoxin cannot reverse nerve damage that has been already done. Luckily, nerves regenerate, but it may take months of rehabilitation, as well as therapy to improve speech and swallowing.


Foodborne botulism can be prevented by following safe home canning instructions such as those featured in the United States Department of Agriculture Home Canning Guide.

Related: Food for thought: How to make food safer across state lines