Acid Reflux In Children: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Acid Reflux In Children

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As a baby, Maya used to spit up the milk she drank almost all the time. Sometimes, she’d spit it up entirely, and within a minute of drinking. Her brother Jason had the same problem. While Maya grew out of it after a couple of years, Jason still has difficulty keeping down the food he eats. Feeding him is a challenge for his mom because he refuses to eat and complains of some pain after he eats.

Jason has what is known as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which affects at least 10% of teens and preteens. MomJunction tells you what every parent must know about acid reflux in children, its symptoms and treatment options.

What Is GERD Or Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is a digestive disorder that affects babies and children. Also known as reflux, this condition usually disappears once the child is three. In some kids, however, it becomes a long-term disorder causing problems such as poor growth, frequent vomiting and in some cases, damage to the esophagus.

When the reflux turns into a disorder that hinders the healthy growth of the child and functioning of the body, it is called gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD is a more serious condition than acid reflux or GER and must not be neglected.

Causes Of Acid Reflux In Children

In babies, acid reflux is caused due to the immaturity of the digestive system. In children and teenagers, acid reflux is the result of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) becoming weak, or relaxing abnormally, pushing the contents of the stomach into the esophagus.

Acid reflux or the weakness of the LES can occur due to many reasons, including:

  • Increased pressure on the abdomen due to excess weight or obesity, or sometimes exercise
  • Use of painkillers, antihistamines, antidepressants, and certain medicines used to treat asthma
  • History of esophageal disorders or surgery
  • Neurological or developmental disorders such as cerebral palsy
  • Smoking, in cases of teens
  • A stomach abnormality called a hiatal hernia, where the stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm causing the acid to move easily into the esophagus
  • Eating a heavy meal and bending over the waist or lying on the back
  • Snacking right before bedtime
  • Sometimes, eating foods such as carbonated beverages, citrus fruits, and spicy foods that have a lot of acidic content

[ Read: Causes Of Vomiting In Kids ]

Acid Reflux Symptoms In Children

The classic symptoms of acid reflux in children include:

  • Nausea and frequent regurgitation and vomiting almost immediately after eating something
  • Regular heartburn, such as a burning and painful sensation in the chest, behind the breastbone, and a burning sensation in the middle of the stomach
  • Pain when you swallow, difficulty swallowing
  • Refusal to eat
  • Bad breath
  • A sour taste in the mouth, especially in the mornings
  • Choking and wheezing, when food enters the windpipe

[ Read: Indigestion In Children ]

When To Call A Doctor

Some of the primary symptoms of acid reflux may also indicate other minor ailments. So you are not likely to rush your child to the doctor if he or she vomits a little, complains of stomach ache or refuses to eat once in a while. But if these symptoms are consistent and frequent, it is a cause for concern and warrants a trip to the doctor.

Call the doctor immediately if your child:

  • Vomits a lot
  • Vomits green or yellowish fluid, blood, or something that looks like coffee grounds
  • Has breathing trouble after he or she vomits
  • Shows signs of dehydration
  • Has lost weight

Diagnosing Acid Reflux Or GERD In Children

The doctor would first check for the symptoms mentioned above. Medical history of the child and growth chart is often enough for the doctor to diagnose GERD in children. In some cases, further tests may be recommended. They include:

  • A pH probe, which is a complicated test that determines the acid levels in the esophagus
  • A Barium swallow or upper GI test, which is a special X-ray test highlighting the esophagus, stomach, and part of the small intestine
  • Gastric emptying study
  • Upper GI endoscopy, to look inside the stomach, esophagus and the small intestine

Once the diagnosis is done, the doctor will recommend a course of treatment.

How To Treat Acid Reflux In Children

Starting from basic lifestyle and diet changes to medications, treatment for GERD depends on the severity of the infection. For younger children, doctors usually recommend changes in diet and lifestyle to prevent triggering the disorder. Here are some of them:

  • Eat more often, but eat smaller meals each time. Avoid eating at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Fatty foods, spicy foods, carbonated drinks, acidic fruits, and vegetables that can irritate the tummy are a no-no.
  • If the child is obese, weight loss is recommended to decrease any possible pressure on the abdomen.
  • Keep the head in an elevated position when sleeping.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes.
  • Do not eat large or heavy meals before vigorous exercise, a game, or any other stressful event.

In addition to these tips, the doctor may also prescribe acid reflux medication such as:

  • Antacids
  • Proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Prevacid
  • Histamine-2 blockers to help reduce the acid in the stomach

Remember that these medications should not be taken without the doctor’s advice. In most cases, a strict GERD diet and a healthy lifestyle can help in controlling the acid reflux symptoms in children.

[ Read: Home Remedies For Diarrhea In Kids ]

Natural Remedies For Acid Reflux In Kids

Treating acid reflux in children naturally is one of the best options you have. Natural or herbal remedies are safe for children and have no side effects unless your child is allergic to the particular ingredient. So here are a few tried and tested traditional herbal recipes, along with a few new ones that will control GERD symptoms in the child.

1. Apple cider vinegar:

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is one of the most effective ingredients in keeping acid reflux at bay. Combine one teaspoon of ACV with half a glass of water and give it to him in the morning. This will help restore the pH balance in the stomach.

2. Coconut oil

Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the inflammation caused due to acid reflux. Give one teaspoon of coconut oil to the child once a day. You can add the oil to a warm drink or use in foods.

3. Yogurt

Eating yogurt right after eating something spicy can help, for yogurt is an alkaline food and can help balance the pH levels in the stomach. Just give the child half a cup of plain fresh yogurt every day after a meal.

4. Sugarless gum

This remedy works well for older kids and teens. Chewing gum stimulates the saliva and neutralizes the stomach acids.

5. Fennel seeds

Besides being an excellent digestive, fennel seeds also help in reducing acidity. The seeds have an enzyme called anethole, which helps in suppressing the gastrointestinal (GI) spasms, which makes it an effective remedy for acid reflux.

[ Read: Causes Of Nausea In Children ]

6. Aniseed and cumin seed

Aniseed has a soothing effect on a troubled stomach.

  • Get the child to chew some aniseed after eating food.
  • Alternatively, soak the aniseed along with sugar candy in a cup of water for three to four hours. Strain the water and give it to the child to drink.
  • You can also use aniseed paste to egg and meat dishes to help digest it properly, and prevent any heartburn.

Likewise, cumin seeds can be used to treat acid reflux in children. Besides using them in your food (Indian dishes), you can also get the kid to chew these seeds if he has a burning sensation in the stomach. Then drink a glass of water immediately for relief.

7. Baking soda

Baking soda has alkaline properties, which make it a natural pH balance-restoring ingredient. One glass of water mixed with a teaspoon of baking soda can provide immediate relief from the symptoms of GERD. Make sure you check with the doctor before using this to alleviate acid reflux.

8. Ginger root

Ginger root can be a great remedy for acid reflux if it is taken on an empty stomach.

  • Clean a piece of ginger, peel and grate it. Extract the juice from it and mix it with a glass of warm water. Give it to the child to drink on an empty stomach.
  • You can also use ginger in food to prevent acid reflux symptoms.

9. Aloe vera

A natural anti-inflammatory agent, aloe vera helps cure acidity quickly.

  • Slit an aloe vera tube and take the gel out from it. Add that gel to water and boil it.
  • Let the concoction cool down and then refrigerate it.
  • Give it to the child before a meal to prevent acid reflux.

10. Basil leaves

Basil or Tulsi leaves are also effective in treating the symptoms of acid reflux.

  • Take a few basil leaves and boil them in a bowl of water. Let it reduce to one-third its original quantity. Let it cool and drink it in the morning.
  • Alternatively, you can crush the basil leaves and extract the juice.

These home remedies help in alleviating the symptoms of acid reflux, but not curing it entirely.

[ Read: Symptoms Of Stomach Pain In Children ]

Food To Avoid To Prevent Acid Reflux

Is milk good for acid reflux? Can my children eat candy when they have acid reflux? What can they eat to prevent acid reflux?

If these are some of the questions you have, you should know about the foods that can trigger the symptoms of acid reflux.

  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint or mint
  • Spicy, oily or greasy foods – avoid all types of fast foods
  • Tomatoes or anything made from tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemon, etc.

Try and give the child only homemade foods as far as possible. Control or limit the portions, as overeating can also trigger nausea and vomiting associated with acid reflux. If the doctor has prescribed any medications, check if it is okay to use these home remedies along with the medicines.

Have any tips that can help kids with acid reflux? Share them with us here.

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Sagari Gongala

Sagari is a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she uses to understand people better. This skill also helps her write better articles about kids and their behavior. She is meticulous in her research and gives you information that could be the ultimate help you’ll need in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and coffee addict, Sagari puts her mind and soul into whatever she does. During her free time, you'll find her either rescuing a sick/injured animal with a friend, or glued to her couch watching Sons Of Anarchy on Netflix.
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