Grand Rapids ENT

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Airway Problems

In children, airway problems are commonly caused from reflux of undigested food and secretions from the stomach. These problems occur in the esophageal area of the body. This condition can be difficult to diagnose, as typical symptoms are not always clear in children. Airway conditions may be genetic or due to prolonged intubation or other medical conditions such as allergies or neurological and developmental issues. Reflux is common in young children because the esophageal sphincters you refer to are not mature and because they are often in a horizontal position.

Causes and concerns

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in children are similar to the adult forms of the condition. These airway problems occur when the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes. This can cause acid and digested food from the stomach to come back up into the mouth. Children are more prone to LPR and GERD, because the meal volume tends to be larger than the gastric volume.

For young babies and infants, these airway problems occur from an undeveloped ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus. This muscle is a sphincter and it keeps the fluid from coming back up into the throat, nasal cavity and mouth. When it is not fully developed, it does not adequately function.

Pneumonia and respiratory problems may develop and cause potentially life-threatening problems for the child. It is important to seek treatment for your child as soon as you suspect these problems.

Symptoms and signs

For young babies, LPR and GERD may not be evident, as symptoms and signs are not always so obvious. Consider bringing your child in to see one of our caring pediatric airway specialists if you notice any of the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Hoarseness
  • Breathing difficulties or noisy breathing
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Recurrent regurgitation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sleeping problems
  • Respiratory problems

Various extraesophageal manifestations of GERD in infants:

  • Failure to thrive
  • Wheezing
  • Stridor
  • Persistent cough
  • Apnea
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Aspiration
  • Regurgitation
  • Recurrent croup

Various extraesophageal manifestations of GERD in children:

  • Cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Stridor
  • Sore throat
  • Asthma
  • Vomiting
  • Globus sensation
  • Wheezing
  • Aspiration
  • Recurrent pneumonia

Solutions and options

Believe it or not, LPR and GERD are often left undiagnosed in children. Early diagnosis and treatment is the only way to prevent complications. The main goal of therapy is to provide relief for the child, to prevent complications and to cure existing disease. In some cases, children may need to be put on medications to manage the airway problem symptoms.

If you suspect your child has LPR or GERD, be sure to keep him or her in an upright position after each feeding for at least 30 minutes. Proper burping and mouth care are also important. Also, avoid giving young children spicy or fried foods, as these contribute to the problem.

Many children with LPR or GERD grow out of it, as the esophageal sphincter properly develops. When a child does not outgrow this airway problem, it can cause a significant decline in overall wellbeing and quality of life. Treatment is the best remedy for child with airway problems. Call today for an appointment with one of our competent pediatric airway specialists. The doctor can work with you to find a solution to your child’s symptoms.