How To Deal With Reflux:
Tips for Adolescents and Their Families

Reflux has many distinctive attributes, but the one earmark you won't find on the list of its characteristics is age. Reflux does not only develop at birth, it can also develop during the crucial years of adolescence. This can be an incredibly trying experience for anyone suffering from the disorder, or anyone involved in that person’s life.
I was diagnosed with reflux at the age of sixteen, never having had symptoms prior to my sophomore year in high school. It developed somewhat slowly, but during my senior year in high school, I was enduring pH probes and endless endoscopies for reflux-related damage and pain. I began a regimen of hard-core drugs that I still use today. I am now a 20-year-old student in my third year of college, still suffering from symptoms, but no longer letting it rule my day-to-day existence. This is a guide more in line with people who are developing into adolescence and continuing through those who are already well into young adulthood. This is a hectic time to be confronting reflux. It will throw a wrench into an already chaotic period in one's life. But with patience, insight and a lot of learning, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

How To Deal With Reflux From A Survivor:
Medical Tips
Right now is the time that you want to be everywhere, doing everything. But you’ve been diagnosed with the disorder that often refuses to go along with most of your body and your mind. You may want to hop in a car and take a quick trip to the McDonald's, but almost everything they serve can be aversive to your condition. Food can be a constant source of aggravation on your body, not only because of its ingredients, but because of the pain and other symptoms it can cause. These are a few suggestions that may keep your body on a better keel with your head.

No matter how tempting fast food may be, the choice of healthy, non-threatening foods are extremely limited. The items tend to be fried and greasy foods that only seem to intensify reflux symptoms. Stick to the salads, they’re as safe as fast food can get.
Any caffeines, coffee, or dark-colored sodas can also exacerbate symptoms. If you can tolerate carbonation, the light-colored sodas such as ginger ale, are a better choice.
Restaurants specializing in specific dishes (i.e. Chinese, Italian, Mexican), often have foods that are loaded with risky spices, heavy sauces and fatty meats. But if you look very carefully, rice, noodles, bland soups, steamed vegetables, poultry and fish can all be found at Chinese establishments. Pastas, breads, poultry and fish can be found at Italian restaurants, while tortillas, salads and poultry are among items easily found in Mexican locales. My particular favorite is a plain chicken quesadilla. Salsa is a major sauce to stay away from, as well as the spicy ingredients, heavy meats and hot dressings. The heartburn simply is not worth the flavor.
Snacks can also be a problem. An old favorite of mine used to be potato chips, but the grease really provoked my symptoms. Even crackers can hurt if they’re fried, not baked. Cookies aren't the best choice either, in fact chocolate of any kind is often an irritant. Pretzels, baked crackers, light popcorn, and some low-fat yogurts are often less likely to produce distressing heartburn or related pain.
Starches such as rice, noodles, potatoes and pasta seem to be the least aggravating of side dishes. Often they can be substituted for main courses if you can't handle meats, and you are sure to provide protein elsewhere in your diet.
Main dishes such as poultry and fish are often more easily tolerated than beef and pork products. If you really enjoy these meats, make sure that they are as lean as possible and not fried.
Often fruits, such as apples and oranges can serve to agitate the esophagus and the heartburn. Vegetables tend to have less harmful effects than their sweeter counterparts. However, you may have to watch for tomatoes or its counterpart, ketchup.
From personal experience, the best schedule to follow is a diet that consists of smaller, more frequent meals. Three main meals tend to be very heavy on reflux, whereas snacks and little meals are better tolerated.
Finally, as an adolescent, you will be up against two major pressures: smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol. Both can severely heighten reflux symptoms. But, I did not personally cross these off my list of don'ts. Often, an individual has to find out for themselves what works for and what works against their health. This is a time of experimentation, and you will find that the decision is ultimately left up to you and how you feel.

Personally, sleep was one of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome. I often found, and sometimes still do find, myself waking up almost a dozen times during the night. My pillows are often stained with white acidic drool, as well as my face. It's very hard to fight such a disorder when you've had almost no sleep from the night before. It makes things increasingly difficult as time wears on; circles may appear under your eyes, your attitude often becomes irritable, and to top it off, your reflux will act up. These are a few tips that I find helpful.
Position 1-2 bricks under the posts at the head of your bed. This will raise the top of your body, making it more difficult for the acid to reflux. It can really do the trick, especially long-term. If you can't find bricks, use pillows. But be sure that you do not aggravate your neck or back by laying in an uncomfortable position.
Sometimes, listening to a Walkman or radio can help soothe you as you fall asleep. Do things that make you feel comfortable.
If you really cannot sleep, get out of bed. You can really come to despise your bed if you're only getting to2-3 hours sleep a night. Go downstairs, watch some television, read a book, do a puzzle, just make sure that you are not in your bed doing these activities.
This is a trick that I have worked out with my doctor. When I have not slept for a significant period of time, he will give me two doses of medication (usually light sleeping medications over a period of two nights) that will put me in a better position to fight my reflux. This is a hard, because most such medications can aggravate reflux. But, this trick is used sparingly, as I do not want to become dependent upon such drugs.

This is an extremely touchy area for all concerned. As an adolescent, and wanting to be as close to normal as possible, taking medication often puts a cramp on your style. As a parent or doctor, you want to see this person become healthy and pain-free. But this person dealing with reflux is not a child. They will not accept medication and take it as directed 100% of the time. Even when it helps. These are a few tips to keep track of your medications, and when to take them.
Use a 7-day medication keeper. They are small, compact, and easy to keep your meds in. They also help you keep record of what you’ve taken already and what you haven’t.
Do not be discouraged if some medications do not work instantaneously. There is no magic cure, but there are medications that can alleviate the pain and symptoms.
Do not stop taking a medication simply because you do not see a difference right away.
Do give yourself a proper trial period (for some drugs, 2-3 months are required minimums). If you feel that there is no improvement, and you have discussed it with your doctor, then discontinue. Try something new. I have found that stopping some medications and then trying them again even one year later can make a difference.
Don’t let yourself be bullied into taking a drug that you strongly feel does not do anything for you. By the same token, make sure that you have given that same drug a long enough chance that it should be having some effect. Try not to be impulsive, this is your health and well-being at stake.
Do not let a doctor force you into experimental drugs or drugs with strong side effects unless you have explored all other options. I was once placed on a drug that was unnecessary at the time, but have also been placed on meds with strong side effects simply because there were no alternatives left. This is your body, and every decision you make will have an effect on your body alone. Don’t be afraid to voice concerns or ask questions. That’s what doctors and parents are there to help you with.

Social Tips

For all that goes on in the life of someone suffering reflux: endless doctors, continual drugs, hospitalizations and pain, these distractions are still incomparable to the social obstacles any teenager can come up against. It’s not enough that adolescence is complete upheaval normally, but tack on a disorder that makes it nearly impossible to lead such a life, and chaos is often created. How are you supposed to go out to dinner with your friends, and then hang out at a party? You don’t ever know exactly how complacent your reflux is going to be. I think that I’ve uncovered all the embarrassing situations there are, but there are always just a few lurking behind the corner. I hope that this advice will help you as much as it helped me.

Delicate Moments:
I often find myself on airplanes, stealing all the little barf bags from all the seats around me. I now have a collection of barf bags from all the major airlines (including some that no longer exist). This may sound deranged, but they’ve come in very handy when I’ve eaten food I shouldn’t have or had some sort of bad day. Out in public, with one tucked into your handbag can be very reassuring.
If something does happen while you’re out in public, don’t feel stupid. That’s only serving to heap on stress and doubt where it’s not needed. Remember that life isn’t always fair, and most people have had their embarrassing moments too.
If you’re feeling very bloated, uncomfortable or your clothing simply isn’t making you feel perfect, always keep alternate clothing available. Personally, I don’t like the elastic waistband look, but if I didn’t have a few pairs, I would have spent many a day home, missing out. Also keep loose shorts, shirts and sweaters around, to cover the tops of your pants. I know that large sweaters and oversized shirts made me feel much less inconspicuous.
If you’re like me, and you burp louder than any large football player, this is a time for your sense of humor to surface. If often find myself in a group full of people, letting out a belch that makes the windows bubble. It is here that I say: “Oops, sorry, no more encores today!” Or if I reflux food back into my throat, and my dinner companions have the luxury of hearing (or seeing) this display, I just smile with: “Umm, well, not everyone can be lucky enough to enjoy dinner twice.” If you laugh first, most people will realize that if you’re comfortable with it, they can relax too.
This may fit more under delicate issues rather than delicate moments. Obtaining your drivers license may be one of the most difficult obstacles you’ll have to overcome. I was so ill during my first driving test at the DMV, I was forced to pull over, consequently failing. The second time around, I was still feeling terribly, but I persevered, and won that hard-earned piece of laminated plastic. Unfortunately, it was weeks before I felt well enough to get behind the wheel again. But don’t give up. A driver’s license is a freedom and a privilege. Fight for that opportunity because not too many things will feel as fulfilling.

Going Out With Friends:
This is a very important issue that people with reflux deal with on a daily basis. For myself, I found that my social life tended to an emotional roller coaster. Teenagers tend to have the memories of fleas: out of sight, out of mind. You have to make sure that you remain irreplaceable in the hearts of your friends. True friends are hard to come by, especially in times of need. But, in my case some surprising people have come to support me. Here are some helping tips to keep your face in the crowd:
Make sure that you call your friends often. Even if you’re not feeling well, or not going to school, keeping in touch can make your friends feel as though they’re still a part of your life.
If you have the opportunity to attend parties or concerts, DO IT! The worst thing you can do is fall out of sight. Don’t let this illness keep you from doing all the wonderful things you’ve always enjoyed. Just make sure to set limitations, and watch your health.
If you do frequent concerts (as I did and do), make sure that you know where all the bathrooms are beforehand. Know where the drink stands are, and try to stay away from the food, if you can. You may not feel great at the time, but your memories will be terrific.
Parties are a little more difficult, as people may be curious to know where you’ve been. Don’t sweat it, just have a great time, and do what makes you feel comfortable. (To be honest, my mother and I both recommend a party over school any day! When you’re sick in bed, there’s always time for reading and education, but there are few chances to make real memories. Parties often serve such a purpose.)
If you’re out with friends, and you get sick, be honest with yourself and your companions. If you feel all right, laugh it off. If you don’t, don’t panic, ask a friend to take you home. If they’re a real friend, they’ll do so without question.
Friends may ask you questions about why you’ve been sick, or why you’ve been in the hospital. Don’t feel embarrassed to answer honestly. Details aren’t always necessary, but when people ask, often it’s taken them a while to work up the courage to do so. Make them feel comfortable, and feel good that friends care enough to want to know.
You may find that when you go out, rumors may be abounding about why you’re really sick. Ignore it. You know what’s wrong with you, and if people want to believe something else, too bad for them. People like to spread gossip, so try to nip it in the bud if you can. Be straightforward.

This is a topic that I still wrestle with every day. For me, school was worse than the actual disease itself. Teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and even parents had their own ideas of how my reflux should affect my school attendance. I attended probably only half the school year all together. The school authorities felt that about one week of absences should be sufficient. I even had a headmaster who was determined to hold me back simply because I had not met attendance requirements. I had performed all my work and completed it (very well, I might add), but that did not fit into her equation. You will find that most schools do not recognize the fact that such illnesses exist. In fact, my head master refused to believe that I was sick. Regardless of the fact that my doctor had informed her that something was physically wrong. Do not be alarmed by such ignorance. Even in all my mess, I found two people in the school administration that believed me and fought very hard to see me graduate. I also found five teachers that were willing to give up their hard-earned summer vacations, in order to give me independent study classes. Unfortunately, there were over one hundred teachers and administrators in my high school. These are some aids to get you through the school years:
Have the school get you a regular tutor that is ready the day you start feeling sick. In my state the term was called “in-service”. Make sure you know the term in your district. Too many kids have slipped through the cracks because no one wants to admit there are alternate avenues for sick students.
Be aware that when you’re feeling well, do you homework! I often let myself fall behind because I feel better, and then find myself too ill to get out of bed, much less prepared to hit the books.
Have an administrator at school that will help and guide you through the teachers that are going to be tough on you. You will need a helper in that area. As teachers aren’t always as kind as they make themselves out to be, more work for them, makes them resent you.
Don’t get upset if your grades aren’t what they used to be. Be satisfied with what you’re doing, because it’s a long road, and you should be proud of even the small things you accomplish. Don’t let a bad grade get to you. In your heart you know what you deserved.
Most importantly, have someone that is not only going to fight for you but with you. This may well be a time full of instability and anxiety. It’s imperative that you have a support system that deals well with the school and has your best interest at heart.

Advice To Parents From Someone Who’s Been There

I’m not a parent…yet. I hope that I will have the ability and the reserves to raise a family one day. I believe that my parents have helped me become an individual that will become a great caretaker. My parents have taught me to look beyond the exterior of a person and their circumstances. Reflux has helped me discover that the world is not a rosy, happily-ever-after kind of place. But my parents have shown me how to deal with such a realm. They supported me where I needed it the most, and then they let me go. Without their trust in my capabilities, I doubt that I would be writing this from my off-campus home at college. I doubt that I would have fought this struggle so long if it hadn’t been for my parent’s belief that I was strong enough to continue on my own.
Being a parent of an ill child is devastating at times; I know, I’ve seen the gray hairs that I’ve put on my parents head. From experience, I know my parents have wanted to wrap me up and take all the pain and the suffering away. But as a parent, you can’t always do that. You have to convey your love and support, but you can’t live their life for them. When a school teacher or a friend hurts your child in some way, be there to listen and to give advice. But ultimately this will be your child’s battle. When your son or daughter has been home for weeks on end due to reflux problems, your home will seem like a safe haven. Don’t let it be. The minute they’re feeling better, kick their butt out the door and send them to school, shopping, or a party. Don’t let life pass them by, reflux already does that for them. You need to be the joy and the excitement that your kid misses out on.
As you watch your child vacillate between good days and bad days, I know that you’ll be hurting worse than your son or daughter. Please don’t give up. Being a person suffering from reflux, I know we’re a tough bunch. I like to think that we’re never given more than we can handle in life. In many ways, reflux is a challenge and it makes you a stronger, better individual. That is what your child is becoming. Encourage them to become independent and self-sufficient. There will be times, physically, when being independent is not an option. You, as a parent, may be forced to intervene. Remember who you are, and what is in the best interest for your child. That is the most that anyone could ever ask for. As a child, watching my parents suffer through, I want all of the moms and dads to know that you are more than just appreciated. Without your patience and care, we could not continue. And for that, we are forever

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