What is Silent Acid Reflux in Babies?

esophagus acid reflux

Silent Acid Reflux In Newborns

Acid reflux occurs when acid leaves the stomach and rises up to your baby's throat. At this point, most babies simply spit up their milk. That is 'normal' acid reflux vomiting.

Babies with silent acid reflux don't vomit. They  are able to mask their condition thanks to their swallowing reflex. They simply swallow the acid back down.

While the absence of vomiting may seem a convenient way to keep your laundry clean, for your little one it isn't.  Instead of being evacuated, stomach content is forced back down with every swallow.

The constant movement of burning acid irritates your baby's food pipe until it gets raw and sore. This irritation is called reflux esophagitis.

Symptoms Of Silent Acid Reflux

Silent reflux babies cry for several hours a day, are always a bit fussy and can awake suddenly from sleep and start to cry. In former times these unhappy babies were simply diagnosed with 'colic' without finding a real cause of their condition.

Now one knows that acid reflux, the silent version in particular, is an important cause of colicky babies. After every feeding, burning acid starts to irritate their throat. Once laid down in bed, their pain worsens.

No wonder that your baby starts yelling and wants to be carried around!

esophagus acid reflux

Help Your Doctor

Since there are no visible signs, it's not easy for your doctor to diagnose silent acid reflux. If your baby doesn't vomit a lot, you don't immediately think of acid reflux.

Lots of babies don't sleep too well, cry in the middle of the night and aren't happy when they are put down. Sometimes it is hard to tell wether a baby is crying because he is hungry, tired, bored or wether he's in pain.

Remember that your doctor has about ten minutes to observe your child. You have a 24 hours experience with your baby. Help your doctor by keeping a diary to record your baby's symptoms.

Write down at what time you feed your baby, how long after food he's put down, what time she starts yelling at night, how the crying persists etc.

Medical Tests

Based upon your information, your doctor can make a clear diagnosis. It is up to him to decide if acid reflux medication
is necessary. Acid reflux drugs that are commonly prescribed are acid blockers and proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Omeprazole, Nizatidine,..). 

If your doctor suspects severe acid reflux, medical tests can be performed:

  • Lab test
    Blood and urine are tested to rule out any other serious condition
  • PH monitoring
    Via the nose, a tube is inserted into the esophagus. The tube is left for 24 hours. During this period, one measures how much and how often acid reflux occurs.
  • Gastroscopy
    gastroscopy  is done to look at the esophagus and the stomach.  The endoscope for babies is extra thin for optimal comfort.

Should You Worry?

The esophagus of babies with silent acid reflux gets more exposed to gastric acid than in babies who are able to spit up. They suffer more easily from reflux esophagitis. That's why they have a (slightly) increased risk of developing Barret's Esophagus.

Good News!

Changes of complications of acid reflux in babies are very low and your crying baby will grow out of silent reflux at the age of six to eight months.

What Can You Do?

Simple home remedies can work wonders.

If your baby drives you mad and turns nights into nightmares, remember to take care of yourself. Ask a family member or friend to take care of your crying baby while you get some sleep.

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