Pica

Most of us have seen children, especially those between the ages of 2 and 3 eating mud, sand , chalk or clay. I remember my sister, when she was around the same age, licking the balcony wall, so very often! This craving for eating non-nutritive stuff is usually harmless, but if it lasts for more than a month and shows no signs of going away, then it can develop into a full-blown disorder called pica, from the Latin word for the Magpie bird, who can eat almost anything. Pica is a chemical imbalance, and the causes could be many- poverty, disruptions in family harmony, parental neglect. Pica can even occur in pregnant woman, or in children with autism. 

Pica

Non-food items like:
  • Clay
  • Chalk
  • Plaster
  • Sand
  • Baking Soda
  • Cigarette Ash
  • Paper
  • Hair
  • Ice

are usually eaten in this disorder. 

Cultural factors are also said to play a part in influencing this disorder. Across the world, Pica is prevalent in some groups, tribes or families. Some tribes believe that eating dirt keeps away magicalspirits. 

WHEN TO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY

If your child has eaten something poisonous, or has consumed some unknown substance, take him to the doctor immediately. Do not wait. 

If your child continues to eat dirt or chalk, it can lead to serious health problems in the future:

Lead poisoning,Bowel problems, Dental injury,Parasitic problems,Intestinal perforation etc. are some serious conditions that can occur due to this disorder.

ACTION BY YOUR DOCTOR

Seek help from your doctor, who will work on your child, and will also educate you on teaching your child about the food and substances he can eat and should refrain from eating. He will also check for anemia and other deficiencies in nutrition, and will prescribe the necessary treatment for your child. Stools will also be tested, as there are high chances of contamination due to eating of dirt or clay. 

The good news is that Pica is most often, a temporary phase that goes away as the child grows. But if it continues to persist and shows no sign of getting remedied even after the doctor’s intervention, then it is a matter of concern. 

Prolong the treatment, and show patience with your child during this time, as your child may usually take some time in stopping to eat non-food items.