Gag reflex and Gag Reflux are often considered to be same considering both of them have similar symptoms. However, there is a massive difference between these two.
Children are not fast eaters as we are. They are distracted most of the times. Getting distracted is an inborn quality which can be controlled and managed with time. Some children outgrow it as they grow and some take very long to acquire focus and concentration.
If your child is a slow or a picky eater then you must identify the reasons and try to make the mealtime less stressful for both of you. If your child is having some discomfort while having food then it’s very important for you to know that whether your child is having a reflux or a reflex.
What is Gag Reflex?
Reflexes are involuntary actions on which we don’t have any control. Humans are born with basic reflexes. As per Oxford Dictionary, a reflex is an action that is performed without conscious thought as a response to a stimulus.
Normally, a gag reflex is our body’s protective response to prevent us from aspirating something that could cause us harm. In the case of children and toddlers, it is triggered by any unpleasant experience during meals. There can be many factors like:
- Problems in chewing
- Disliking the texture of the food
- Disliking the taste of the food
- Wanting to eat something else
- Being force fed
- Unwilling to eat
I wrote a detailed blog about Gag Reflex in Children and what can you do to prevent it.
What is Gag Reflux?
Gag reflux is a condition in which the contents of the stomach (sometimes including acid) moves upwards into the oesophagus (food pipe) and sometimes it travels up (acid reflux) into or out of the mouth (vomit).
Frequent vomiting associated with discomfort and difficulty in feeding or weight loss may be caused by something more serious known as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). If your child has vomiting or reflux atleast twice a week persistently for few weeks then it could be GERD.
It should be noted that a short-term gag reflux is not as serious as a GERD. GERD is a more prolonged condition of gag reflux and can persist for a long time. It may also require a medical intervention depending upon the severity of the symptoms.
What Causes Gag Reflux in Children?
Gag Reflux is very prominent in children born prematurely since they are born with an immature digestive system. Children usually grow out of it by their first birthday.
There is a muscle called as Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LES) that acts as a valve between the oesophagus (food pipe) and stomach. When we swallow food, this muscle relaxes to make the food pass through the oesophagus to the stomach. This muscle normally stays closed, so the stomach contents don’t flow back into the oesophagus.
During gag reflux, LES becomes weak or relaxed when it shouldn’t and the stomach contents flow back up into the oesophagus.
Gag reflux in children and babies can happen due to several reasons:
- Eating spicy or fried foods
- Drinking caffeine or carbonated drinks
- Specific medications
- Any severe developmental delays
- Food allergies
- Some children may have weak valves that are sensitive to certain foods or spices which irritate the valves or cause inflammation, further resulting in reflux.
Symptoms of Gag Reflux in Children
- Many children don’t even notice reflux, but some children may feel the food coming back up with a burp or with a vomiting reflex.
- Some children may also complain of stomach ache which actually is a heartburn or acidity.
- Nausea and vomiting after meals.
- Your child may complain of disturbed sleep due to bile moving up into his mouth.
If the reflux is severe or doesn’t get better, please consult your doctor without further delay.
Preventing Gag Reflux
Gag reflux in children can be easily avoided unless it requires any medical intervention.
- Don’t force feed your child or make him overeat
- Prefer light foods for dinner
- Don’t make your child eat heavy foods before any physical activity
- Don’t let your child sleep or lie down right after meals
- Increase fibre intake through salads and fruits
- Get your child tested for food allergies and intolerances if you observe anything unusual like skin rashes, vomiting and nausea after consuming any food