Hidden Dangers: 5 Tummy Troubles That Send Kids to the ER During the Holidays

The holidays are all about spending quality time with friends and family – and eating lots and lots of FOOD. As adults, we cringe at the amount of carbohydrates we consume, vowing to get back into shape in the New Year. Although we know holiday eating will make our own pants a little tighter, we don’t always stop to think about how this increased food consumption will affect our children. In fact, stomach issues are one of the leading causes of children’s ER visits during the holiday season. So, let’s talk about a few of these hidden holiday dangers and how you can treat them.

1. Constipation

This is a HUGE problem during the holidays as festive foods are all about carbohydrates and substituting refined carbs for fiber/veggies can contribute to constipation. As a result, we see a lot of kids in the ER with abdominal pain. Many people believe if a child poops, he or she can’t possibly be constipated. This is a common misconception that is not true.

Signs and symptoms of tummy troubles in kids caused by constipation may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain, especially after eating
  • Bowel movements that are hard, dry, and difficult to pass
  • Pain while having a bowel movement
  • Nausea
  • Traces of liquid or clay-like stool in your child’s underwear (a sign that stool is backed up in the rectum)Blood on the surface of hard stool

The best way to cure your child’s constipation is to prevent constipation before it starts. Make sure that your child is drinking a lot of water and is incorporating high fiber foods into their diet. Make sure you are providing less carbs and more protein when preparing their meals. Less is more when it comes to complex carbs. Remember: when your child sits down to eat, it’s all about portion control. If your child is suffering with constipation, an over-the-counter (OTC) stool softener can be helpful. If your child has persistent abdominal pain (vomiting or weight loss) it’s important to have them evaluated immediately by their pediatrician.

2. Gastritis

This is also the time of year when our kiddos will eat a lot of foods that can cause gastritis, which typically presents with a burning pain in the upper/middle portion of the belly just underneath the sternum. Children may find it difficult to express this type of pain to you and will more than likely have general complaints of belly pain, nausea, and decreased appetite.

Foods that cause gastritis in children include the following:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods
  • Chocolate
  • Soda
  • Tomato sauce

If your child is suffering from gastritis, it is important to combine diet modification with OTC medications that can help with abdominal discomfort and bloating. If your child has persistent abdominal pain or vomiting, they should be evaluated by their pediatrician.

3. Food Allergies

This hidden holiday danger is a BIG one with holiday foods being notorious for containing all types of allergens, such as nuts. Every year, we see a lot of children enter the ER with new onset allergies and those who have ingested foods they didn’t know contained nuts, dairy, or eggs. If your child has a food allergy, it is very important for you to ask the person who prepared the food if there are any ingredients that could potentially cause an allergic reaction. Also, if you are going to a holiday party and your child has allergies, make sure to bring their EpiPen along with you. If you are hosting, ask your guests if anyone has a specific food allergy and consider labeling the food so that everyone is aware of which dishes contain those allergens. It’s always best to plan ahead and give everyone the chance to have a good time.

4. Food Poisoning or Stomach Bug

The stomach bug is no stranger to the holidays, spreading more easily due to spending more time in the company of loved ones and friends. During these gatherings, food poisoning may also become an issue since many of us tend to eat a bit more during this time of year and we don’t always pay attention to what we are eating – or how long it has been sitting out. As you host or attend holiday get-togethers, it’s important to know that leaving food like chicken or meat unattended for longer periods of time may lead to quickly growing bacteria and cause food poisoning. If your child gets food poisoning or gastroenteritis, the most important thing to remember is hydration.

Signs of dehydration in children include:

  • Dry mouth
  • No tears when crying
  • Decreased urination – lack of urine or wet diapers for 6 to 8 hours (in an infant) and 12 hours or more (in older children)
  • Increased sleepiness and irritability
  • Fatigue or dizziness (in older children)

If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, plan to give them small amounts of fluids every 10-15 minutes and visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

5. Gas & Bloating

Gas can be incredibly painful, sending many parents to ERs and local urgent care centers worried about the sharp and persistent nature of their child’s belly pain. These pains occur when gas gets trapped or doesn’t move well through the digestive system. But providing relief for your kid’s gas issues doesn’t have to be difficult to manage since it can often be treated right at home. If you think your child is suffering from pain related to gas, indigestion, or bloating, try an OTC chewable tablet that combines both antacid and anti-gas ingredients to treat their symptoms. They are a great option for quickly soothing your child’s aching tummy. Any persistent abdominal pain should be evaluated by a pediatrician to rule out a more serious condition.

Final Thoughts

Abdominal pain during the holidays is not a fun experience for anyone, especially kids. It is something to think about, however. Many different illnesses can cause vomiting and abdominal pain, and some of these issues are more serious than others. If your child is having any of the symptoms listed above, an at-home OTC medicine may be able to help them feel better. However, if your child’s pain is more severe or persistent in nature, be sure to have him or her evaluated by a healthcare professional immediately so that they can get back to enjoying the holiday season – pain-free.

~Dr. Katie

Meet Our Experts

Dr. Katie Friedman

Dr. Katie Friedman is a board certified pediatrician and specialist in pediatric emergency medicine. She is also a wife, and mother of two. Along with her sisters (Alison, a veterinarian and Carrie, a fashion stylist), she is a co-founder of Forever Freckled, a website dedicated to helping people with pets, children, and everyday lifestyle.