Symptoms of GERD in Children

When the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn't close properly, stomach contents and acid can back up into the esophagus. If your child experiences any of the following symptoms of acid reflux, medical attention is needed.

Chest pain
When stomach acid is refluxed into the esophagus, pain can occur behind the breastbone and higher into the chest and throat.

Burning sensation in the throat
If refluxed stomach acid irritates the esophagus, it can cause a burning sensation in the throat and lower esophagus.

Extreme pickiness about foods or refusing food
Children may refuse to eat if pain occurs when they swallow. This pain can be caused by the irritation in the esophagus when formula and stomach contents are refluxed back up into the esophagus.

Gagging or choking
Trouble with swallowing (dysphagia) occurs when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. There may be a sensation of food sticking in the throat, chest pressure or "burning" after eating, or a feeling of choking. Difficulty swallowing could be a sign of various conditions, including erosive esophagitis, and should always be evaluated by a physician.

Frequent sore throat
When stomach contents back up into the throat, it can cause irritation and a sore throat.

Respiratory problems (such as bronchitis, wheezing, asthma)
Several studies suggest a significant link between GERD and asthma. GERD can affect asthma when refluxed acid from the stomach is aspirated into the lungs, and can make breathing difficult and cause the child to wheeze and cough.

This refluxed acid can cause other types of irritation in the lungs, leading to increased odds of pneumonia and bronchitis.

Frequent cough
A frequent cough may occur if refluxed stomach acid is aspirated, irritating the airways, or when the stomach acid irritates the throat.

Irritation caused by refluxed stomach acid into the throat can lead to hoarseness.

Poor sleep, frequent waking
When a child is sleeping and his head isn't elevated, this allows stomach contents to press against the lower esophageal sphincter, and can cause it to open inappropriately. When stomach contents are refluxed into the esophagus, it can cause coughing and a choking sensation, which in turn can make sleeping more difficult.

Excessive salivation or drooling
Excessive drooling usually occurs from improper, inefficient, or infrequent swallowing. When stomach acid backs up into the esophagus and throat, it can cause irritation, and the child may find it difficult to swallow, and thus will drool more.


Marsha Kay, M.D., Vasundhara Tolia, M.D.. "COMMON GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS IN PEDIATRIC PATIENTS."; The American College of Gastroenterology. 2 Mar 2008.

"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Accessed on 2 Mar 2008.

Brian Pace, MA, Richard M. Glass, MD. "Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children." JAMA, July 19, 2000---Vol 284, No. 3. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2 Mar 2008.

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