Toddlers can get heartburn, or acid reflux, which can occur when irritating stomach acids enter the esophagus and throat. This can be the result of a weak lower esophageal sphincter valve, or LES. Although heartburn in toddlers is generally well-managed, treatment depends upon the etiology of the heartburn. Babies who develop heartburn often get better as they get older; however, when heartburn symptoms appear during the toddler years, they can be lifelong.
Although infants generally get heartburn as a result of immature gastrointestinal symptoms, the etiology of toddler heartburn is similar to that of the adult. Being overweight and eating certain foods is often responsible for triggering a heartburn attack in the toddler. Certain medications such as antihistamines may cause heartburn because they cause the LES to relax, resulting in the escape of stomach acid.
Symptoms of heartburn in the toddler include a burning feeling in the throat, constant throat clearing and coughing. Furthermore, a decrease in appetite, nasal congestion and wheezing may occur. Other common symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn in the toddler include vomiting, poor sleeping habits, weight loss and repeated sore throats. Sinus infections are common in toddlers suffering from heartburn because stomach acid irritates and inflames the nasal mucosa, making it susceptible to pathogens.
Heartburn is typically diagnosed by a physical examination; however, when the exam is inconclusive, further diagnostic testing is often recommended. The toddler suffering from heartburn often has a red, irritated throat, which sometimes is ulcerated. Endoscopy and the barium swallow test are also excellent tools to rule out the presence of acid reflux disease.
For mild cases of heartburn in the toddler, lifestyle modifications are often helpful in mitigating symptoms. Avoiding trigger foods such as chocolate, peppermint, caffeinated beverages and citrus fruit often bring dramatic relief. If your toddler is overweight, losing weight often helps reduce symptoms as well. Furthermore, elevating the head of the bed helps keep stomach acid from traveling up into the esophageal area. For more severe symptoms, antacids and acid blocking medication is generally recommended.