As a member of the CHPA OTC Safety Ambassador Program, I received compensation for this post but all opinions are my own and based on my family’s past stomach issues.
Every day when the kids come home from school, I get the full report on the most recent victims of the stomach bug that is making its way through the second and fourth grade classrooms. Kids staying home sick from school or having to leave mid-day has been pretty typical in the past two weeks and even though the pattern indicates a fairly fast moving virus, it’s important to know the difference between a stomach bug and more serious intestinal problems.
“Children’s abdominal complaints have many potential causes most of which are not dangerous, but some (such as appendicitis) can be life threatening.” writes Val Jones, M.D. in the article, Decoding the Symptoms: Common Stomach & Intestinal Problems in Children and Adolescents on the OTCSafety.org site.
One of the most frustrating things about being a parent of an infant is their inability to communicate what hurts and I always felt like I was grasping at straws. Monitoring diapers and using process of elimination to figure out what my child’s symptoms really meant still always resulted in a call to the nurse with questions and a sick child visit to our pediatrician.
As our kids have grown older, it’s definitely easier to talk about stomach problems and digestive issues but Dr. Jones recommends that all belly problems be closely monitored. Often times they can indicate heartburn (reflux disease), constipation, or something that requires more immediate medical attention. According to OTCSafety.org, the following 5 symptoms are red flags that require immediate medical attention:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Blood in vomit
- Blood in stool
- Dangerous dehydration
- Risk of toxic ingestion
Heartburn isn’t just something that the geriatric crowd complains about on daytime infomercials. In fact, it’s fairly common in children and adolescents. According to Dr. Jones, 3-5% of all adolescents experience reflux disease whose symptoms include chest and upper abdominal discomfort occurring when acidic stomach contents slide upwards into the esophagus, causing irritation and a burning sensation. Diet can trigger recurring heartburn so avoiding acidic or fatty foods can be a good first step. Other ways to treat heartburn include:
- Encouraging a healthy lifestyle with lots of physical activity since losing weight can resolve reflux problems
- Providing gentle reminders about eating smaller meals
- Elevating your head when experiencing reflux. Dr. Jones says this simple trick decreases the flow of stomach contents into the esophagus.
- Be knowledgeable about over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that can help provide heartburn relief such as antacids, histamine receptor (H2) blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. Be sure to read the Drug Facts label before offering any heartburn relief medicine to a child.
And then there’s constipation. (Yes, we’re talking poop on my blog for the first time ever!) According to OTCSafety.org and Dr. Jones, “constipation is a very common problem, and accounts for 3 to 5 percent of all pediatrician visits.” Believe it or not, symptoms include more than just hard stools. Constipation must include two or more of the symptoms occurring at least once a week for two months in a child older than four years of age. Instead of listing them out, I’ll let you read more about the symptoms on the OTCSafety.org website.
While OTC treatments are available to relieve discomfort, there are lifestyle treatments that can serve as long term preventative measures including exercising regularly, increasing fluid intake, maintaining a high fiber diet, reducing diary consumption (specifically discontinuing cow’s milk), and reminders to use the bathroom at more regular intervals.
Images courtesy of OTCSafety.org.