What is botulism?

Botulism causes flaccid paralysis of the muscles.

There are three types of botulism:

Food-borne botulism: This is botulism caused by bacteria contaminating food (i.e. food kept in cans, tins, jars and also foods preserved in oil). The contamination is usually due to a fault or improper practice in the canning or preservation process. The onset of symptoms occurs when you digest the food as your body reacts to the spores of the organism Clostridium Botulinum - the bacteria that is at the core of botulism.

Wound botulism: Where the spores of the Clostridium Botulinum organism infects an open wound and then multiplies (massively reproduces within the wound and, to a certain degree, beneath the skin in the wound's surrounding area). This can often occur to drug users injecting Class A drugs (e.g., heroin) into muscle tissue.

Infant botulism: This is rare, but occurs where an infant (usually before they have reached 12 months) somehow consumes the spores of the Clostridium Botulinum bacteria/organism. Once the child reaches its first birthday, its body will then develop a defence mechanism against the spores.


Symptoms of botulism in adults include:

- Muscle paralysis
- Dry mouth and throat
- Droopy eyelids
- Headache, blurred vision and double vision
- Speech and breathing difficulties
- Weak muscles (resulting in poor grip, for example)
- Constipation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain

Symptoms in botulism in children include:

- Constipation
- A flat facial expression
- Irritability
- Lethargy
- Floppiness
- Breathing problems
- Muscle weakness
- Weak sucking
- Feeble crying
- Reduced movement
- Swallowing problems
- Excessive drooling


The Clostridium Botulinum bacteria can be found in soil and foods, such as honey and corn.


If you (or your baby) are suffering from the aforementioned symptoms and think that you may have developed botulism, seek immediate medical treatment. Also call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you suspect that someone you know may be suffering from botulism.

At your local (or nearest) hospital: After taking your medical history, asking you some questions about your symptoms and carrying out a physical examination, you will be asked to undergo either an MRI scan or a CT scan. Based upon the results, a confirmed diagnosis will/may be made. These tests (as well as a possible spinal tap test where a sample of cerebrospinal fluid is taken from your lower back) will also help to rule out other possible health conditions, such as Guillian-Barre Syndrome, mild heart attack or stroke - all of which have similar symptoms to botulism.

You may also be asked to provide a urine or stool sample in order to detect the presence of toxins.

Note: It is important to point out that botulism is an extremely rare condition. In fact, due to the high standards enforced by the Department of Health and other Government bodies when it comes to canning and food preservation methods across the UK (and also in the control of imported food and food stuffs from abroad) the chances of a UK citizen developing food-borne botulism are actually less than zero.


Food-borne botulism is usual treated with a series of antitoxin injections which will be carried out immediately and in isolation at your local (or nearest) hospital.

Surgery may be carried out to the affected area where wound botulism occurs.

With infant botulism, your baby will be placed safely in an incubator and treated with botulinum immune globulin medicine.

Al these treatments are proven as being successful in treating botulism.

How Chemist Online can help

Through this website we have a range of treatments available to buy which can help ease the symptoms and associated symptoms of botulism, such as constipation remedies and painkillers for headaches.


Advice and Support
Tel: 020 7486 0341
Website: www.corecharity.org.uk

The Gut Trust
Helpline: 0114 272 3253
Website: www.theguttrust.org

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