Can Children Get Acid Reflux?

gastroenterologist examining a boy's stomach

Medically Reviewed by Dr Ho Ying Jie (M.B.B.S. Singapore & Family Physician of Singapore Medical Council)

Acid reflux, a common digestive disorder in adults, can also affect children, albeit less frequently. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for pediatric acid reflux is crucial for parents and caregivers. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the possibility of children experiencing acid reflux and provide insights into its management.

Understanding Acid Reflux in Children

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and discomfort. While occasional reflux is normal in children, persistent or severe symptoms may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Common causes of acid reflux in children include:

  • Immature Digestive System: Infants and young children have developing digestive systems, making them more prone to reflux.
  • Dietary Factors: Certain foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, spicy foods, and carbonated drinks, can trigger reflux episodes.
  • Obesity: Excess weight can increase pressure on the stomach, leading to acid reflux.
  • Hiatal Hernia: A hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach protrudes into the chest cavity, can contribute to reflux symptoms.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may exacerbate reflux in children.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Children

Recognising the signs of acid reflux in children is essential for prompt diagnosis and treatment. While symptoms may vary depending on the child’s age and severity of reflux, common indicators include:

  • Frequent Vomiting: Children vomiting more than usual, especially after meals, may signal acid reflux.
  • Heartburn: Older children may experience a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen.
  • Regurgitation: The backflow of stomach contents into the mouth or throat, often accompanied by burping or belching.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: Acid reflux can cause discomfort or pain when swallowing, leading to feeding difficulties.
  • Respiratory Issues: Reflux may irritate the airways, causing coughing, wheezing, or recurrent respiratory infections.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing acid reflux in children typically involves a thorough medical history review, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. These may include:

  • Upper Endoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth to examine the esophagus and stomach lining.
  • pH Monitoring: This test measures acid levels in the esophagus over a 24-hour period to evaluate reflux severity.
  • Barium Swallow: The child ingests a chalky liquid containing barium, which coats the esophagus and stomach, allowing abnormalities to be detected on X-rays.

Treatment for pediatric acid reflux focuses on alleviating symptoms, reducing reflux episodes, and preventing complications. Management strategies may include:

  • Dietary Modifications: Avoiding trigger foods and beverages can help minimize reflux symptoms in children.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Encouraging smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding lying down immediately after eating can reduce reflux episodes.
  • Medications: In some cases, doctors may prescribe antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), or H2 receptor antagonists to reduce stomach acid production and alleviate symptoms.

Complications of Untreated Acid Reflux

Untreated acid reflux in children can lead to various complications, affecting their overall health and well-being. Some potential complications include:

  • Oesophagitis: Chronic exposure to stomach acid can cause inflammation and irritation of the esophagus, leading to oesophagitis.
  • Respiratory Problems: Refluxed stomach acid can reach the lungs, causing respiratory issues such as asthma, recurrent pneumonia, or chronic cough.
  • Poor Growth: Severe or untreated acid reflux can interfere with nutrient absorption and lead to poor weight gain or failure to thrive in infants and children.
  • Barrett’s Oesophagus: Long-term untreated GERD may increase the risk of Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition of the esophagus.

Seeking Medical Advice

If your child experiences persistent or severe symptoms of acid reflux, seek prompt medical attention from a pediatrician or gastroenterologist. Untreated reflux can lead to complications such as oesophagitis, respiratory issues, and poor weight gain.

Book Your Child’s Consultation Now!

Ensure your child’s optimal health and well-being by consulting the pediatric specialists at Keystone Clinic & Surgery. Learn more about our comprehensive range of children’s health services and schedule an appointment today. Don’t let acid reflux affect your child’s quality of life. Take action now and entrust their care to our experienced team.

References 2024. Acid Reflux: Causes and Symptoms. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). 2021. Always Suffering from Heartburn or Acid Reflux? You May Have a Digestive Disorder. 2024. Acid Reflux: Diagnosis and Treatment.

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