Most people pass gas between 14 and 23 times a day, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders states. While passing gas is embarrassing and often slightly odorous, truly foul-smelling gas is more uncommon. Most children, like most adults, experience foul-smelling gas at one time in their lives. Causes range from self-limited and benign to lifelong, serious health problems. Persistent foul-smelling gas requires medical evaluation.
Children of any age can have a bout of foul-smelling gas. In breastfed babies, maternal diet can influence the odor of gas. Bottle fed babies with cow's milk allergies may have an increase in smelly gas. Between 2 to 5 percent of babies develop cow's milk allergy, although 80 percent outgrow it by age 6, Food Reactions reports. Older children or those who spend time in school or day care may be exposed to infections that cause foul-smelling gas. Children who have diseases that cause malabsorption of nutrients from the intestine are very likely to have foul-smelling flatulence.
Inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis cause poor absorption of nutrients through the intestine. Stools become more bulky as well as greasy and foul smelling. Foul-smelling flatulence will also occur. Other malabsorption diseases such as celiac diseases have similar symptoms. Other common causes of foul-smelling gas and stools in children include giardia, a protozoan infection often present in unclean water that's passed through the fecal-oral route, and rotavirus, a virus that produces copious amounts of foul-smelling diarrhea. Children who have a bacterial infection in the intestine may produce foul-smelling gas, because bacteria in the intestine release sulfur-containing gases that can cause foul-smelling flatulence, the NIDDK explains. Eating foods that produce excess gas, like beans and cabbage, also causes foul-smelling gas.
Foul-smelling gas accompanied by diarrhea can indicate an intestinal infection. Children can become dehydrated very quickly if this occurs and require prompt medical treatment. Children with malabsorption syndromes are often smaller and thinner than healthy children. Children with cystic fibrosis may also suffer from respiratory problems. Babies with foul-smelling gas may also have symptoms of colic with crying, drawing up the legs against the stomach and abdominal tension.
Treatment depends on the cause. If certain foods cause a problem, dietary changes can reduce foul-smelling gas. Children with malabsorptive diseases such as cystic fibrosis and celiac disease require specialized treatment and diets to help them absorb more nutrients. Bacterial and viral infections in the intestine may require antibiotics or other medications to destroy the harmful intruder. Children with allergies may require dietary changes or avoidance of certain foods in breastfeeding moms.
A sudden increase in foul-smelling gas may indicate a temporary problem that will resolve when the noxious substance exits the intestine, whether a food, bacteria or virus is to blame. Foul-smelling gas that persists or that occurs along with other symptoms requires prompt medical evaluation.