By Dr Suruchi Goyal Agarwal
Is making your child eat healthy meals on time the biggest task of your day? Did your child end up sleeping on an empty stomach again or skip a meal? Or are your meal timings not fixed at home? Well, it may seem insignificant, but these small actions can make your child suffer from acidity at a young age.
The carefree attitude with which we associate childhood is only for kids now, and not so much for the parents. In the current scenario, parents need to be highly careful and attentive towards their children to ensure they lead a happy, healthy life. Given our lifestyles, when it comes to food, sleep, digital gadgets and physical activity, more and more health problems are being encountered in the younger population.
For instance, complaints of heartburn, chest pain, gastric issues, acidity or similar symptoms have often been a common complaint among adults. However, this is no longer limited to adults but is being observed among children as well and more so among teenagers. This is becoming a rising concern for parents as the onus lies on them.
Some of the common symptoms observed in children or teenagers suffering from acidity are:
· Recurrent vomiting
· Frequent cough or wheezing
· Refusal to eat or difficulty eating (like choking or gagging with feeding)
· Abdominal pain
· Crying regularly and being fussy especially related to feeding
· Complaints of a sour taste in the mouth, particularly in the morning
How does emotional or psychological distress add to acidity?
Has it happened that your child has refused a meal and you have ended up forcing him/her to eat? The situation becomes trickier when children are in their late teenage years where they control their own choices. This may seem normal but could end up affecting your child’s emotional and psychological well-being and in turn disturb digestion too.
When it comes to children, especially those up to the age of five years or even early teens, acidity is generally a result of either an infection or some mechanical problems with the stomach and muscle at the end of food pipe. However, with children in their middle or late teenage, mental exertion along with unhealthy eating habits accelerates and intensifies the problem.
While the cause of acidity differs in children and adults, emotional and psychological distresses are among the reasons that are being noticed to be common irrespective of the age.
Recent research has shown a connection between stress and acid reflux. Even anxiety and depression have been observed to increase the risk of acidity. Anxiety has been noted to enhance certain symptoms like heartburn and upper abdominal pain. Some researches indicate that stress increases the production of stomach acid which can also trigger heartburn. Stress is also known to reduce the production of substances like prostaglandins, which are normally responsible for protecting the stomach from the effects of acid. Stress combined with exhaustion especially in the current lifestyle for children also present more body changes that tend to cause more acid reflux.
The long hours at school, followed by some of the other extra-curricular activity, excessive social media, additional peer pressure, constant competition accompanied by unhealthy eating habits of consuming junk food items, irregular meal times, and eating and sleeping at odd hours are all adding to the emotional and psychological distress that the teenagers experience these days.
Some of the reasons that particularly increase stress and hence acidity in children include:
· Excessive pressure on the abdomen from being overweight or having obesity due to unhealthy eating habits.
· Exposure to secondhand smoke
· A severe developmental delay
· Certain neurological conditions
· Peer pressure
· Eating food half-heartedly
· Lack of physical exercise
· Anxiety and depression
When it comes to teenagers who are going through acid reflux due to the excess of stress in their lives, it is important for the parents and doctors to take a note of the child’s behavior and adopt coping techniques in the child’s life to manage stress and reduce the risk of acidity. The better the stress is dealt with, the better will the child feel. Some of the basic lifestyle changes that can be adapted include:
· Regular exercising
· Practicing relaxation techniques
· Prioritizing and limiting activities considering the child’s health and interests
· Taking out time for relaxation and fun activities frequently
· Including creative pursuits based on the child’s interests in daily routine
· Inculcating healthy food habits
(The writer is Consultant Pediatric and Pediatric Endocrinology, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield.)
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