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GERD: Common in Children

GERD affects 25 to 35 percent of the U.S. population. It's not just an adult disease - even infants and children can have GERD. In fact, studies show that GERD is common and may be overlooked in this younger population. Children's immature digestive systems are typically to blame and most infants usually grow out of GERD by the time they are a year old.

In children, GERD can cause repeated vomiting, coughing and other respiratory problems. Almost all children and adults have a little bit of reflux, without being aware of it. In some children, the stomach contents remain in the esophagus and cause damage to its lining. In other children, the stomach contents go up to the mouth and are swallowed again. This can cause the child to have a hoarse or raspy voice or a chronic cough.

Symptoms of GERD in children:

  • Pain or burning sensation behind the breastbone that moves toward the neck
  • Acidic or bitter taste in the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing episodes
  • Asthma
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Pain when swallowing

Talk with your child's doctor if your infant or child seems to show these symptoms and/or if reflux occurs regularly and causes discomfort. Your pediatrician may recommend simple strategies to help your child avoid reflux, such as burping an infant several times during feeding or keeping her in an upright position for 30 minutes after feeding. If your child is older, the doctor may recommend avoiding foods that cause reflux:

  • Sodas that contain caffeine
  • Chocolate and peppermint
  • Spicy foods such as pizza
  • Acidic foods such as oranges and tomatoes
  • Fried and fatty foods

If your child is uncomfortable or has difficulty eating or sleeping, your pediatric health care provider may suggest a trial of medication to decrease the amount of acid made in the stomach. You should not medicate your child without a doctor's advice - only your child's health care professional should determine if medication is necessary.