Silent Reflux in Babies

As babies are not able to speak, it can be very worrying when they are in discomfort or pain, as they can’t tell you what is wrong. This can lead to much concern for the caring parent, who wishes only to ensure the health and prosperity of their child. Silent reflux in babies can easily be misdiagnosed or undetected, due to the fact that there are no obvious symptoms. This article will detail all that you need to know about this occurrence, including how you can spot it and what to do.

What Is Silent Reflux in Babies?

Reflux is the action of regurgitating, or bringing food back up. When the regurgitated food does not reach the mouth for expulsion, it is known as silent reflux, which is common in babies. Known medically as laryngopharyngeal, this occurrence can be hard to detect due to the lack of apparent symptoms to explain.

Why Silent Reflux Happens

Due to the fact that babies are at the most infant stage of human development, many parts of their body essential for food consumption and digestion, such as the sphincter and the esophagus, are not fully developed. Add this to the fact that babies spend the majority of their time lying down, and you can see why silent reflux in babies is common. As the sphincter is responsible for keeping food and drink that has been swallowed in the stomach, when it is not fully developed, it does not work efficiently, meaning that stomach acid (and possibly food) is refluxed into the throat or nasal airway. As the baby grows, the body will develop and strengthen, reducing and eventually halting the occurrence of silent reflux (usually around the ages of 12-14 months). It is uncommon for reflux to persist for longer than 18 months in babies.

What Are the Symptoms of Silent Reflux

As mentioned, babies cannot relay their feelings via spoken language as that skill has not yet developed. For this reason, it is in the hands of the parent to notice that something is wrong, and to take the correct steps to rectify the problem. The most common sign or reflux in babies is related to breathing-problems, which can be very worrying for a concerned parent. Any suspicion of a problem with your child should be met with a prompt visit to a health care professional for a full evaluation. This is a crucial step to take if your child shows any of the symptoms related to silent reflux, including:

  • Stridor (loud breathing)
  • Cyanosis (turning blue)
  • Sleep disordered breathing
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Chronic cough
  • Apnea
  • Spit up
  • Hoarseness
  • Croup
  • Seemingly life threatening event
  • Inability to thrive

Experience from a Mom:

A mom from Halifax notes how she first thought her child was crying often due to the fact that they were high maintenance and did not want to be set down. Her suspicions, however, began to rise, “I realized that my baby would make choking noises immediately after feeding time, and is seemed as though the cries were not without a reason, and it was to indicate real and acute pain.”

What Are the Possible Complications of Silent Reflux?

Continued occurrences of silent reflux in babies can lead to numerous complications due to continued exposure of acidic substances to the laryngeal constructs, including:

  • Long-term airway complications
  • Chronic ear infections, due to dysfunction of the Eustachian tube
  • Hoarseness
  • Narrowing of the vocal cord area

How to Treat Silent Reflux in Babies

If you suspect that your child is experiencing silent refluxes, then you should have them evaluated by a health care professional. In some instances, changes of your home care regime may help to resolve the problem, in more severe cases, medication or even surgery may be suggested.

Some tips you can utilize to help avoid the occurrence of reflux include:

  • Ensuring to burp them regularly during feeds.
  • Try to not overfeed your child, and give them smaller meals more often.
  • Ensure that the bottle you feed your child with does not allow for the release of too much milk so as to overload your child.
  • Once you have fed you child, hold them upright for a good amount of time whilst the food digests.
  • Try to raise your baby’s head whilst they sleep. This can safely be done by putting some books under the crib at the end where your child’s head is, or by putting a pillow underneath the mattress at the same end. Never put a pillow (or books for that matter) with the baby in the crib.
  • It may be suggested by your health care professional that you use thickening agents within your baby’s milk or formula, and medication can reduce the amount of stomach acid, helping to reduce silent reflux in babies. That being said, as already stated in this article, the issue will most likely solve itself as your child grows, and by following the tips in this article, medication or other medical intervention shouldn’t be required.
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