Too Young for Acid Reflux?

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Singer Ashlee Simpson isn’t the only teen who has acid reflux. Once considered exclusively a disease of the middle aged and elderly, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is now known to affect millions of infants, children and teens. Children with acid reflux may have digestive symptoms or respiratory symptoms including a hoarse voice and many suffer without a diagnosis. The Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux (PAGER) Association is promoting public awareness of this common and easily overlooked disease in children and teens.

“If your child has respiratory problems like asthma and sinus infections that don’t respond to treatment, you need to discuss the possibility of acid reflux with your child’s pediatrician,” says Benny Kerzner, MD, Chair of the Department of Gastroenterology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. “Backwashing stomach acid can cause pain and damage to delicate tissues of the esophagus, mouth, nose, airway or vocal cords. Simple changes to the diet and meal times may help some children while others may need medicine to suppress the production of acid in the stomach.”

Why should you consult your doctor instead of just giving your child an antacid? “While many children don’t need any medication, some children experience severe pain and others are at risk of significant damage. Stomach acid is so caustic that it can melt the enamel off of teeth if it pools in the mouth at night and the pain causes some adults to call an ambulance because they mistakenly think the severe pain is a heart attack. Only your doctor can help you determine whether your child is at risk for damage. And only you and your child can tell the doctor if the pain is so severe it needs to be treated,” says Jan Burns, Associate Director of PAGER Association.

Signs of GERD

While an occasional episode of reflux is normal, five to eight percent of otherwise healthy children have frequent and significant symptoms of GERD. Children with GERD tend to have the following signs to a more extreme degree and more frequently than children without GERD who may have these signs occasionally.


•    Spiting up or wet burps

•    Poor weight gain, refusing to eat

•    Frequent night waking due to pain

•    Colic-like crying, extreme fussiness, arching backwards

•    Wanting to be held upright

Older children

•    Wet burping or almost throwing up, especially during exercise

•    Stomach ache above the belly button or burning sensation in the chest/throat

•    Sour breath, throat clearing or hoarse voice, especially in the morning

•    Selective eating because many foods can make GERD worse

•    Sleeping propped up on lots of pillows

•    Grouchiness and poor attention due to poor sleep

•    Remarkable belching

Respiratory signs

•    Laryngitis, deep voice, voice pain, vocal cord nodules

•    Wheezing, asthma, reactive airway

•    Night-time coughing, chronic throat clearing

•    Chronic sinus congestion/infections, chronic ear congestion/infections

•    Bronchitis, frequent colds, pneumonia

•    Gagging, choking, apnea spells where the child skips a few breaths

Ashlee Simpson

PAGER Association has not been in contact with Ashlee Simpson, but they know of many GERD sufferers who have voice pain and hoarseness from acid reflux. “Quite a few of the kids in our group have acid damage to their vocal cords that makes them sound like sexy, 1940s movie stars,” explains PAGER Director Beth Pulsifer-Anderson. “I myself have acid reflux that makes singing quite painful – both to my throat and to the ears of anybody listening. Voice doctors are finding that many cases of laryngitis are caused by acid reflux.”

“I’m a big fan of Ashlee Simpson and I know exactly what she is going through,” says Jenna Burns age 13. “I get acid reflux whenever I play soccer or other sports. I know that acid reflux really hurts and I feel bad for what happened to Ashlee. She is a great singer.”

The Campaign

PAGER Association is sponsoring the first Pediatric GERD Awareness Day on October 31, 2004. “We chose Halloween because many children get upset stomachs on Halloween from eating too much candy and skipping dinner. We will be using this day to alert parents that chronic stomach aches can be something more serious and should be discussed with a doctor,” explains Pulsifer-Anderson.

About PAGER Association

PAGER Association was founded in 1992 to provide support and information to parents, professionals and children dealing with acid reflux. The PAGER web site at takes 100,000 hits per month and has a very active discussion board with 12,000 postings. In addition, the group has trained volunteers who help parents one-on-one and many helpful publications. Help can be found through the web site or by calling 301-601-9541. PAGER Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

PAGER established the first study to find a “cause” of GERD in families who have inherited GERD. The organization is working with Allegheny Singer Research Institute, Center for Genomic Sciences. This study is exciting because it will be the first time that researchers can truly see a “cause” of reflux rather than just studying the symptoms. Families with two or more children with GERD are encouraged to call 888-887-7729.


PAGER staff are happy to grant interviews and can arrange for interviews with children, teens, parents, doctors and researchers. Please check our web site for further details at Local contacts are available in many areas of the US.

Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesphageal Reflux Association, Inc – PAGER

PO Box 486

Buckeystown, MD 21717
301-601-9541 Parent Warm Line Message Center

301-213-9533 Beth Anderson direct line

443-226-6604 Jan Burns direct line

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