Acid Reflux: Implications for Older Children

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

When you have an infant with acid reflux, it can be really rough. While most kids outgrow reflux by the time they're a year old, some go on to deal with it well into childhood. Older children with acid reflux have different challenges and needs than infants. If you are caring for an older child with AR, here are some tips for helping your older child negotiate it seamlessly.

First and foremost, see a doctor

If you are treating your older child’s acid reflux with over-the-counter medications, please see a doctor. Any child over one year old with acid reflux may also need to see a gastroenterologist. Additional testing could be warranted to rule out other causes for the symptoms, like food allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis, celiac disease, or even an infection. Once these things have been ruled out, your doctor will likely place your child on the lowest dose of medication that controls the symptoms. More isn’t always better -- especially with the dangers of PPI medications still being studied.

Talk with your child

It is important for older children to have open communication with parents when it comes to their health. Let them know that things like changes in their stool, throwing up in their mouth, or stomach pain are not things to be embarrassed to talk about. The more comfortable they are discussing these issues at home, the easier it will be when they are away from home and need to seek help from another adult.

Inform the school

Not long ago, my 11-year-old with acid reflux accidentally drank lemonade. It was given to her at school, but because it was raspberry lemonade she didn’t realize what it was until she had downed half a glass. When her stomach started burning, she stopped drinking it, but by then it was too late. She spent two days at home trying to calm her stomach down again.

Learn from my mistake Be sure to let the school nurse AND all of your child’s teachers know all of his or her food restrictions. For most kids with acid reflux, the triggers could include chocolate, citrus fruits or juices, tomato (and its byproducts) and anything spicy.

If there is a food function at school, you can request that the teacher let you know ahead of time. That way, if you need to send an alternative treat, you have time to do so.

Catch bullying quickly, and combat it with preparation

There are always going to be bullies in the world, preying on children they perceive as weak. Unfortunately, this can mean that those kids with medical problems are often targeted. Work with your child’s teachers to come up with a signal that your child can use to indicate that he or she needs extra bathroom time, or needs to see the nurse, without drawing more attention than needed.

Talk with your child about how important it is to let an adult know if they are being bullied or teased because of their medical problem. Check out my recent post about dealing with bullying and GI problems for additional resources.

If you notice any changes in your child’s behavior, like withdrawing from friends and family, a decreased interest in things or activities they previously loved, angry outbursts, or other signs of depression, get a counselor involved immediately.

With just a little extra attention to these tips, older kids with acid reflux can thrive.

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.Jennifer also serves on the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.