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Acid Reflux in Children

Knowing the signs

April 2012

Acid reflux isn't just an adult disease. Many children – including infants – can suffer from heartburn and acid reflux. But while adults can typically describe their symptoms to help pinpoint the ailment, it can be more difficult to diagnose in children. Like many illnesses, acid reflux can look differently in children than adults. In fact, the symptoms of acid reflux may look different depending on the age of your child.

Babies and Acid Reflux

If your child takes a few sips of a bottle then pushes it away, it may be a sign of more than a fussy baby. The same is true of a baby that arches his or her back after a feeding. These symptoms – if reoccurring – may be a signal of acid reflux.

"Acid reflux is a common ailment in babies," says Susan Maisel, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent. "Most infants experience some gastroesophageal reflux. This is generally considered to be physiologic and normal. They are what we call 'happy spitters.' However, babies who spit up so much that it interferes with their ability to sleep, tolerate food or gain weight may be giving us clues and warning signs that they are experiencing complications of reflux or, possibly, formula allergies, infections or gastrointestinal structural problems."

Dr. Maisel says congestion and recurrent ear infections can also be common symptoms of acid reflux. "Often times these symptoms can be mistaken for allergies. But if the congestion is year-round, rather than seasonal – which is what allergies typically are – then it could be a symptom of acid reflux," she explains.

Infant reflux resolves in 98 percent of children by 12 months of age.

Toddlers and Acid Reflux

Recurrent awakening at night or early in the morning, coughing in the middle of the night, or waking up overly tired may all be tied to acid reflux in toddlers.

"Acid reflux at night can arouse a child during sleep, making it hard to get into a deep sleep," says Dr. Maisel. "If symptoms such as chronic early morning congestion and sore throat get better as the day goes on, they could represent acid reflux. On the other hand, if it's allergies, these symptoms generally get worse as the day progresses."

Adolescent and Acid Reflux

Diagnosing acid reflux is generally much easier in adolescents. Like adults, adolescents are better able to describe their heartburn and the feeling of food coming up. And like infants and toddlers, they may also experience sore throat, chronic congestion and sinus problems.

Dr. Maisel said regular snoring and waking up with headaches could also be reasons to consider acid reflux.

When to see a doctor

If symptoms persist, it's important to see your pediatrician or primary care provider, particularly if your child has regular pain related to eating, weight loss or poor weight gain, difficult or painful swallowing, or vomiting.

Treatment depends on your child's symptoms and age and can include prescription or over-the-counter medications, lifestyle changes or a combination of these.

Questions about your child's Health?

If you have any questions – day or night – about your child's health, the free nurse advice line at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent is available 24/7/365 at 317.338.Kids. Or, visit on-line at KidsHealthLine.com.

Dr. Maisel is board-certified in pediatrics and pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. She received her medical degree from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She also completed an internship and residency at the University of New Mexico Hospital, and a fellowship at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center. Dr. Maisel is the medical director for pediatric gastroenterology at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent. Awards U.S. News Top Doctors, Top Pediatric Gastroenterologist, 2011

Tags: In This Issue, Health, Infant & Baby, Kids, Pediatric Health

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