Reflux in Kids

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You probably already know the feeling of acid reflux. When stomach acid moves through your esophagus, it causes a burning sensation. This condition is also called gastroesophageal reflux or GER. If your baby, child, or teenager has started complaining about GER, you might be concerned. You also probably have questions about what’s normal, when to seek treatment, and how to help your child with symptoms.

While uncomfortable, it’s normal for everyone to get occasional reflux events. But if your child is having multiple events over the course of several weeks, they may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Diagnosing GER or GERD at UVA Health Children's

To diagnose reflux conditions, your doctor will start by taking a detailed history. They’ll also do a physical exam.

These two things will help them investigate common symptoms.

GERD Symptoms in Kids

  • Coughing 
  • Sore throat
  • Worn down tooth enamel
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty breathing 

Tests for GERD

If your child's history and physical exam raise concerns, your doctor may order additional tests. These can include: 

  • Checking your child’s esophageal PH level
  • Doing an endoscopy (takes a look down the child’s esophagus)
  • Getting X-Rays with contrast 

While these tests might be uncomfortable, they’re very safe. At UVA Health Children's, our radiologists are trained to work with children. They will always use settings that get high-quality images without overexposing children to radioactivity. 

Treating Reflux & GERD

If your child only has occasional reflux, reducing incidents might be all that's needed. Your doctor can recommend some strategies. 

This could include: 

  • Avoiding certain foods 
  • Losing Weight 
  • Not eating right before bed 
  • Reducing stress 

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe medicine. These could include:

  • Antacids which neutralize the stomach's acid
  • Proton pump inhibitors which reduce the amount of stomach acid produced
  • Histamine blockers to reduce stomach acid

Sometimes, your doctor may suggest surgery. GERD can be caused by an issue like a hiatal hernia or a loose esophageal sphincter. 

Surgery for GERD

Many parents feel a lot of anxiety about their child going into surgery. You should know that you're in good hands. At UVA Health Children's, we've handled some of the most complex surgical cases in the state. With exceptional outcomes. And because we're used to performing surgery on children of all sizes, we're equipped with right-size equipment and specialists. 

At UVA Health Children's, you'll benefit from pediatric anesthesiologists, who can control your child's pain. And child life experts who can explain surgery and recovery to your child in language they'll understand. 

Our surgeons will always use the least invasive techniques possible. That means many procedures can be done as an outpatient. But sometimes kids do have to stay in the hospital for a few nights. Learn more about what you should expect during your child's hospital stay. 

Acid Reflux in Babies 

While reflux is common for most people, it’s actually expected for babies. In babies, the opening between the gut and esophagus is still developing. Spit-up is very normal.

Most babies are what’s known as “happy spitters.” This is why burp clothes are a diaper bag staple. After eating, it’s normal for babies to spit-up some milk and seem completely unbothered by it.

But for some babies, it’s a problem. If your baby seems distraught about spitting up or stops wanting to eat, it could cause your baby to stop gaining weight. This is called "failure to thrive" and it can be serious. 

Your doctor can offer suggestions for improving reflux, like sitting upright after feeding. But if that’s not enough, many reflux medications are safe for babies.

Your doctor can offer suggestions on what course of action makes the most sense for you. 

What’s the difference between GER & GERD?

Almost everyone has reflux. But with GERD it’s frequent, not alleviated by lifestyle changes, and can cause complications.

GER rarely needs treatment, but GERD usually will. 

What causes reflux in kids? 

There’s no one cause of reflux in kids. Some of the more common causes include:

  • Certain foods
  • Acidic foods (like citrus) 
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy food
  • Overeating 
  • Being overweight 
  • Laying down too soon after eating 
  • Eating late at night
  • Wearing clothing that’s too tight 
  • Smoking, or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Stress