How to Detect and Treat Acid Reflux in Children

Acid reflux in children has recently become a major health concern that leads to enormous health care costs and also affects quality of life. This type of reflux is usually defined as the involuntary transfer of gastric acid into the esophagus. It is very common for 1-year and 2-year old children and although it causes regurgitation and vomiting, it usually won’t affect your child’s growth. It’s also important to know that the difference between gastroesophageal reflux disease and physiological reflux is less correlated with the duration, frequency and severity of episodes. However, if the actual symptoms are intense enough they will affect your child’s health and might lead to other complications over time.

Is it normal for my child to spit so much?

This varies from case to case. It is normal for children to spit after eating or even vomit occasionally without a clear reason. Vomit and frequent spitting are called gastroesophageal reflux (or simply acid reflux) and most children get rid of it as they grow.

However, there are situations in which your child may present other symptoms besides spitting and vomiting, symptoms that indicate they suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD). For instance, your child/infant may present signs of abdominal pain accompanied by back arching and leg pain. During breast feeding your child may also present coughing or drowning symptoms which indicate GERD’s presence. Some kids who suffer from this disease also wake up and scream arbitrarily during night.

If your child vomits frequently after feeding, then you should schedule him for a control at your family doctor as soon as possible.

What causes acid reflux in children?

All children get used to the process of eating and digesting sooner or later, but those who don’t get accustomed to it fast are often more prone to vomiting and spitting. If your child suffers from GERD then this is likely because the esophageal sphincter is weak or not working properly yet. Thus, the food and gastric juice leave the stomach and reach the child’s mouth.

If your child presents GERD symptoms then it’s very important to supervise his weight. Some children suffering from disease fail to gain enough weight because they simply can’t maintain enough nutrients in their stomach. Others, however, lose their appetite due to the stomach pain caused by acid. This pain might also be accompanied by a burning sensation in the esophagus.

If part of your child’s stomach contents enter the lungs there is a little chance for him to develop problems such as pneumonia, sinus and ear infections. The stomach acid can also damage tooth enamel overtime. Therefore your child might hardly bear with this disease on the very first days, but that doesn’t mean acid reflux in children is not treatable.

What can I do to ease his pain?

Try to keep him into an upright position when you feed him and also a little after this (e.g. do not let him lay flat on his belly immediately after a meal). Also give him smaller and more frequent meals so that he can ingest a smaller milk quantity.

If you feed your child through a baby bottle with a special milk formula then you could add some rice cereal into it or resort to a milk formula with added rice (note that it’s recommended to consult your doctor prior).

These suggestions are not guaranteed to work as a wonder drug, and they might even make your child more nervous than before. However, it does not hurt to try.

Do I have to visit a doctor if I suspect my child suffers from GERD?

If your child spits a lot but doesn’t seem to be disturbed by it and his weight seems to be normal too, then you might choose not to visit a doctor. However, if you’re concerned by the situation it won’t hurt to ask.

Conversely, if you notice he suffers from more serious symptoms (and especially if you think that the reflux adversely affects his growth and prevents him from gaining weight), then you should schedule an appointment to your doctor as soon as you can. Only he can make a correct diagnosis based on the symptoms and tell you if your child suffers from GERD or not.

What will the doctor do?

If the gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms are obvious, then he will firstly prescribe him a medication. Many children respond to the low-dose antacids and acid suppression (careful not give your child something similar unless your doctor expressly prescribes it).

Ideally, your child should not resort to medication in excess of one month, time in which the acid reflux should disappear. Some drugs affect the normal course of people’s digestive tract. If your child presents specific GERD symptoms, then your doctor will most likely find the appropriate treatment method for him.

How to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Your pediatric doctor may give this diagnosis just by looking at your child and by analyzing the symptoms that he presents. But if your doctor is unsure or if the treatment goes wrong, he may further send you to a gastroenterologist for a review diagnosis of the current disease. These tests usually include radiography of affected areas. Your child will have to drink a special substance first (barium), which highlights any digestive irregularities.

Other common diagnosis procedures include endoscopy. This para clinical method is performed after your child’s sedation. Children won’t often stand still for the gastric exploration, and this is why most doctors resort to sedation. In addition, a lot of discomfort will be alleviated. When it comes to the actual procedure, the doctor will introduce a flexible tube down your child’s throat, which is equipped with a video camera on its end. This camera transmits the images received from your kid’s digestive tract to an external display.

Another diagnosis technique is represented by esophageal pH monitoring. This standard procedure is often considered mandatory and it’s the most objective test which can be done until now. It allows for a clear diagnosis of this disease and for a successful assessment of its evolution under treatment. It involves inserting a thin tube through the child’s nose, by the distal esophagus region. Thanks to it the local pH is determined and the detection degree of the acid reflux in children goes up to 100%.