August 10, 2011

Reflux (Acid, Non-Acid, Mixed Types) in Neonates & How It May Also Apply to Adults

A study was published this month in the journal Pediatric Research which described reflux characteristics in neonates, but the findings can certainly be applied to adults as well.

What I found gratifying about this study was not so much that reflux was evaluated, but what measurements obtained by 24 hour pH-impedance were taken which apply just as much to adults as neonates. Just exactly what was measured and what did the study find (at least in neonates suspected of having reflux)?

• Only 54% of reflux events was associated with symptoms

• Defined by physical characteristics of reflux events:
  • 51.3% were liquid
  • 29.1% were gas
  • 19.6% were mixed
• Defined by chemical characteristics of the reflux events:
  • 48.5% were acidic
  • 51.5% were non-acidic
• Defined by how high the reflux traveled away from the stomach:
  • 79.2% reached the throat/mouth level
  • 20.8% stayed in the chest level

Although these findings are specific for neonates, adults experience similar problems, though precise numbers are probably different and need more study.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux is when reflux reaches the throat level. Depending on the chemical characteristics of the reflux (acid vs non-acid as well as how high it goes), the symptoms may be quite variable. NON-acid reflux is considered "silent" and patients may not experience any symptoms of heartburn. Rather, common symptoms include:

Phlegmy throat
Chronic cough
Swollen sensation in the throat (globus)
Chronic throat-clearing

These results point out another issue... Common medications used to treat reflux (zantac, pepcid, nexium, prilosec, prevacid, etc) only treats ACID reflux. Not NON-acid reflux.

As such, other modalities must be pursued to address symptomatic non-acid reflux beyond medications involving lifestyle changes including diet as well as surgery.

Whether it be babies or adults, characterization of the spatial-temporal-physical-chemical nature of reflux events as defined by pH-impedance methods offers the best chance of evaluating and treating symptoms due to reflux.

Or in more simplistic terms...


Significance of gastroesophageal refluxate in relation to physical, chemical, and spatiotemporal characteristics in symptomatic intensive care unit neonates. Pediatr Res. 2011 Aug;70(2):192-8.

gaviscon advance nexium prilosec pepcid reflux band

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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