Five Signs of Childhood Acid Reflux That You May Overlook

Dr. Bryan Vartabedian Health Guide
  • The younger your child, the harder it may be to recognize the signs of acid reflux. Here are five common signs that can be an indication of acid reflux:

    1. Dental Enamel Loss

    When reflux reaches the mouth it can eat away at a child's dental enamel and predispose him or her to tooth decay. If you suspect reflux in your child, ask your dentist to look for signs of reflux damage in the teeth. In addition to treatment of the reflux by your pediatrician, your dentist may be able to offer a protective sealant.

    2. Picky Eating

    All toddlers and preschoolers are picky eaters, right? Well children with GERD have a higher incidence of feeding refusal according to a recent study that looked at the presenting symptoms of reflux in toddlers and preschoolers. According to this study about 25 percent of normal children exhibited some type of feeding refusal compared to nearly 60 percent of kids with reflux disease.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:


    So how do you tell normal picky eating from ‘extreme' picky eating? Unfortunately, you can't -- look for other symptoms of reflux that support a diagnosis and be very suspicious if they won't eat.

    3. Stomach pain

    While I have a hard enough time convincing parents and even pediatricians that children actually get reflux, it's even trickier convincing them that tummy aches can be the only sign of its presence.


    So how does acid way up in the esophagus create a tummy ache? It all has to do with kids and their ability (or inability) to localize pain. Before age 10 or so children lack the capacity to accurately localize and characterize their pain. So many children with pain due to reflux will point to their belly buttons when they hurt.


    During their school-aged years kids more reliably develop the capacity to describe abstract things about themselves like where they hurt and what it feels like.

    4. Cough

    Cough is a natural mechanism for protecting the lungs and airway from unintended foreign stuff like stomach contents. In children with no other good explanation for their symptom, cough may be the only sign of reflux in a child. Look for cough that occurs at night when asleep. Other common causes of cough: upper respiratory infection, pneumonia and asthma.

    5. Throat Clearing

    If cough is a rousing bellow to blow stuff from the entry of the lungs, throat clearing is something of a nudge for stuff that's getting close. Chronic throat clearing in the absence of other problems like post-nasal drip is a glaring reflux sign. This symptom of reflux is perhaps the most overlooked and one of the least likely to be considered significant by moms and dads.


    So keep your eyes, ears and minds open to the possibility of reflux in your child.


    For a full guide on coping with infant acid reflux, see here.

    For a mother's account of infant acid reflux, read Jan's blog and Tracy's blog.

Published On: October 22, 2007