Eosinophilic esophagitis is an allergic condition that happens in the esophagus. The esophagus becomes inflamed and does not contract properly. It can get narrowed and develop rings or abscesses. The symptoms happen when your immune system makes white blood cells in reaction to an allergen. The white blood cells are called eosinophils.
The condition is called eosinophilic esophagitis, or EE or EoE. It can happen at any age and is commonly seen in white males.
EoE is caused by an allergic reaction to certain foods or environmental allergens.
Symptoms of EoE vary from person to person and may include:
Chest pain or heartburn
Food getting stuck in the throat due to narrowing (this is a medical emergency)
Stunted growth or poor weight gain in children
People with atopic dermatitis, asthma, or food or environmental allergies have a much greater chance of developing EoE it. Some other conditions can cause eosinophils to increase in number in the esophagus. Your healthcare provider will need to evaluate you for these possible conditions. Family history of EoE is also a risk factor for the condition.
Your healthcare provider will take your medical history and will likely want to test you for allergies. He or she will probably request an endoscopy by a gastroenterologist, a specialist in digestive (stomach and swallowing) disorders. This is an outpatient procedure that involves passing a thin, flexible endoscope with a camera through your mouth and down your throat to look at your esophagus. The gastroenterologist will check for physical signs of inflammation and an increased number of eosinophils. To confirm the diagnosis, your gastroenterologist will likely need to take a biopsy, or tissue sample, from your esophagus.
For treatment, you will need to work closely with an allergist and/or a gastroenterologist. They’ll help you figure out what substances or foods to avoid. No specific medicines can cure EoE, although certain medicines, such as corticosteroids and proton pump inhibitors, and eliminating specific foods—dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, and fish—from your diet can help reduce the redness and swelling in your esophagus.
You can help manage EoE by learning what substances cause your allergic reaction and avoiding them. In many cases, the allergens come from food. It’s also important to know that reactions related to EoE might take days or weeks to develop. Keep this in mind when beginning a food elimination plan. It might take some time after avoiding a particular food to determine whether that strategy worked.
Sometimes the esophagus needs to be dilated (stretched) if it has narrowed.
The long-term complications of EoE are not clearly understood. If left untreated, symptoms will continue and damage to the esophagus causing narrowing may happen.
Call 911 if you have:
Food stuck in your throat
Difficulty breathing or talking
When to call the healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider if you have EoE and notice any of these symptoms:
Increasing weight loss
Increase in vomiting
- Increasing difficulty swallowing
Living with EoE
To manage EoE it is important to work closely with your gastroenterologist. He or she can tell you when tests are needed to check on whether your EoE is getting better or worse. An allergist/immunologist and dietitian can help you manage related problems like asthma, allergic rhinitis, and food allergies. Work with your health professionals so that communication occurs between them. Some families find support groups and organizations helpful. American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (APFED) is an organization that helps families cope with EoE.
EoE is a life-long condition. Management includes avoiding the foods or allergens that cause the allergic reaction.It can take patience to identify and then remove allergens from your diet. However, your quality of life will improve as your management plan progresses.