What is eosinophilic esophagitis?
Esophagitis (say "ee-sof-uh-JY-tus") is irritation or inflammation of the esophagus. This is the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach. In eosinophilic (say "ee-uh-sin-uh-FILL-ick") esophagitis, white blood cells called eosinophils are in the esophagus.
Eosinophils aren't normally in the esophagus. They are part of the immune system. The body sends them out in response to an allergic reaction. This has led experts to think that allergies—especially food allergies—may cause eosinophilic esophagitis. People who have eosinophilic esophagitis often have other types of allergies too, like hay fever, eczema, or asthma.
Eosinophilic esophagitis can occur in both children and adults. It's more common in males than in females. It may run in families.
What are the symptoms?
In adults, the symptoms include:
- Trouble swallowing. This is the most common symptom. It may hurt to swallow. Or it may feel like food gets stuck in your throat.
- Pain in the chest or upper belly.
In children, common symptoms include:
- Refusing to eat.
- Not gaining weight as expected.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Belly pain.
How is it diagnosed?
To diagnose eosinophilic esophagitis, a doctor will ask about your symptoms. The doctor will also do an endoscopy. For this test, the doctor puts a thin, flexible tube down your throat to look at your esophagus. During the test, the doctor will take small tissue samples, or biopsies, from your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. The tissue samples are sent to a lab. At the lab, the samples are looked at under a microscope.
Eosinophilic esophagitis is usually diagnosed and treated by a specialist called a gastroenterologist.
If you are diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis, you may want to see an allergist. This type of doctor can do tests to find what foods you're allergic to.
How is eosinophilic esophagitis treated?
Changing your diet is one of the ways to treat eosinophilic esophagitis. If you have been tested and know your food allergens, you can simply avoid those foods. If not, your doctor may suggest one of these diets:
- Cutting out foods that are known to cause eosinophilic esophagitis. That would mean avoiding milk, eggs, wheat, and legumes, such as soy.
- Replacing all solid foods with a special liquid protein diet.
After some time, you would add back one group of allergy-causing foods at a time. This is a way to identify which foods you are allergic to. Then you can avoid them in the future.
If you try one of these diets, it's best to work with a dietitian. The dietitian can help make sure that you are getting the nutrients you need to be healthy.
Medicines are also used to treat eosinophilic esophagitis. The most common ones are:
- Proton pump inhibitors, such as lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec). They help reduce inflammation in the esophagus.
- Corticosteroids, which can reduce inflammation in the esophagus. Some people need to take a corticosteroid long-term to keep their symptoms under control.
Sometimes, eosinophilic esophagitis causes narrowing of the esophagus. This makes it hard to swallow food. If medicine or diet changes don't relieve the problem, it can be treated with a procedure called dilation. This may be done during endoscopy. During dilation, the doctor guides a balloon or plastic dilator down your throat and into your esophagus. When the device is expanded, it widens any narrow areas of your esophagus. Your doctor can discuss the risks and benefits of this treatment.
Current as of: March 21, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.