Everyone has gastroesophageal reflux (GER), the backward movement (reflux) of gastric contents into the esophagus. Extraesophageal Reflux (EER) is the reflux of gastric contents from the stomach into the esophagus with further extension into the throat and other upper aerodigestive regions. In infants, more than 50 percent of children three months or younger have at least one episode of regurgitation a day. This rate peaks at 67 percent at age four months. But an infant’s improved neuromuscular control and the ability to sit up will lead to a spontaneous resolute ion of significant GER in more than half of infants by age ten months and four out of five at age 18 months.
Researchers have found that 10 percent of infants (younger than 12 months) with GER develop significant complications. The diseases associated with reflux are known collectively as Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Physically, GERD occurs when a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus malfunctions. Normally, this muscle closes to keep acid in the stomach and out of the esophagus. The continuous entry of acid or refluxed materials into areas outside the stomach can result in significant injury to those areas. It is estimated that some five to eight percent of adolescent children have GERD.
GER and EER in children often cause relatively few symptoms until a problem exists (GERD). The most common initial symptom of GERD is heartburn. Heartburn is more common in adults, whereas children have a harder time describing this sensation. They usually will complain of a stomach ache or chest discomfort, particularly after meals.
More frequent or severe GER and EER can cause other problems in the stomach, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, lungs, sinuses, ears and even the teeth. Consequently, other typical symptoms could include crying/irritability, poor appetite/feeding and swallowing difficulties, failure to thrive/weight loss, regurgitation (“wet burps” or outright vomiting), stomach aches (dyspepsia), abdominal/chest pain (heartburn), sore throat, hoarseness, apnea, laryngeal and tracheal stenoses, asthma/wheezing, chronic sinusitis, ear infections/fluid, and dental caries. Effortless regurgitation is very suggestive of GER. However recurrent vomiting (which is not the same) does not necessarily mean a child has GER.
Unlike infants, the adolescent child will not necessarily resolve GERD on his or her own. Accordingly, if your child displays the typical symptoms of GERD, a visit to a pediatrician is warranted. However, in some circumstances, the disorder may cause significant ear, nose, and throat disorders. When this occurs, an evaluation by an otolaryngologist is recommended.
Most of the time, the physician can make a diagnosis by interviewing the caregiver and examining the child. There are occasions when testing is recommended. The tests that are most commonly used to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux include:
Fiberoptic Laryngoscopy: A small lighted scope is placed in the nose and the pharynx to evaluate for inflammation.
Treatment of reflux in infants is intended to lessen symptoms, not to relieve the underlying problem, as this will often resolve on its own with time. A useful simple treatment is to thicken a baby’s milk or formula with rice cereal, making it less likely to be refluxed.
Several steps can be taken to assist the older child with GERD: