Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children: Care Instructions

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Acid in the stomach and esophagus

Overview

Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when stomach acids back up into the esophagus. This is the tube that takes food from the throat to the stomach. Reflux can cause pain and swelling in the esophagus.

Reflux can happen when the area between the lower end of the esophagus and the stomach does not close tightly. In babies, it usually happens because their digestive tracts are still growing. In older children, there may be other causes.

Reflux can cause babies to vomit, cry, and act fussy. They may have trouble breastfeeding or taking a bottle. Most of the time, reflux is not a sign of a serious problem. It often goes away by the end of a baby's first year.

Older children sometimes have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). They may have the same symptoms as adults. They may cough a lot. And they may have a burning feeling in the chest and throat. Symptoms may go away with care at home or medicines.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Infants

  • Burp your baby several times during a feeding.
  • Hold your baby upright for 30 minutes after a feeding.

Older children

  • Raise the head of your child's bed 6 to 8 inches. To do this, put blocks under the frame. Or you can put a foam wedge under the head of the mattress.
  • Have your child eat smaller meals, more often.
  • Avoid foods that make your child's symptoms worse. These may include chocolate, mint, alcohol, pepper, spicy foods, high-fat foods, or drinks with caffeine in them, such as tea, coffee, colas, or energy drinks.
  • Try to feed your child at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. This helps lower the amount of acid in the stomach when your child lies down.
  • Be safe with medicines. Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.
  • Antacids such as children's versions of Rolaids, Tums, or Maalox may help. Be careful when you give your child over-the-counter antacid medicines. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter acid reducers. These are medicines such as cimetidine (Tagamet HB), famotidine (Pepcid AC), or omeprazole (Prilosec).

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's vomit is very forceful or yellow-green in color.
  • Your child has signs of needing more fluids. These signs include sunken eyes with few tears, a dry mouth with little or no spit, and little or no urine for 6 hours.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.