girl holiding cupcake Your family has just finished dinner when someone at the table starts feeling a burning sensation in their chest. It is not your spouse or Aunt Mabel, but your child. The burning sensation, or heartburn, is one symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD happens when acid and food flow back up from the stomach and into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach), potentially damaging the esophagus. GERD can cause chronic problems, such as regurgitation or respiratory problems.

Although symptoms are similar, this is not to be confused with gastroesphageal reflux (GER). GER is common in infants and children. It eventually goes away on its own without treatment.

According to a study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, children with GERD may be at risk for having this condition as an adult, as well. Fortunately, researchers say that detecting and treating GERD during childhood may result in better outcomes later in life.

GERD is caused by the weakening of a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When you swallow, it contracts to prevent stomach contents from flowing back up, or regurgitating, into the esophagus. Certain foods, medications, and conditions can relax the LES, allowing acid to regurgitate. It may also occur as a result of impaired or absent muscle tone.

If your child has GERD, the doctor may recommend avoiding:

  • Spicy, acidic, or tomato-based foods
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Citrus products, such as orange juice
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated drinks, such as soda, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate

Teenagers should also avoid smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, and those with GERD have an added incentive not to. These activities can worsen their symptoms.