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Eosinophilic esophagitis

Eosinophilic esophagitis involves a buildup of white blood cells in the lining of your esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. The buildup of white blood cells (called eosinophils) is due to a reaction to foods, allergens, or acid reflux.

Causes

The exact cause of eosinophilic esophagitis is not known. It is believed that an immune reaction to certain foods leads to a buildup of eosinophils. As a result, the lining of the esophagus becomes swollen and inflamed.

Most people with this disorder have a family or personal history of allergies or asthma. Triggers such as mold, pollen, and dust mites may also play a role.

Symptoms

Eosinophilic esophagitis can affect both children and adults.

Symptoms in children include:

  • Problems feeding or eating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Problems swallowing
  • Food getting stuck in the esophagus
  • Poor weight gain or weight loss, poor growth, and malnutrition

Symptoms in adults include:

  • Food getting stuck when swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Heartburn
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Backflow of undigested food (regurgitation)
  • Reflux that does not get better with medicine

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will take a detailed history and perform a physical exam. This is done to check for food allergies and to rule out other conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

There is no cure and no specific treatment for eosinophilic esophagitis. Treatment involves managing your diet and taking medicines.

If you test positive for food allergies, you may be told to avoid those foods. Or you may avoid all foods that are known to trigger this problem. Common foods to avoid include seafood, eggs, nuts, soy, wheat, and dairy. Allergy testing may discover specific foods to avoid.

Proton pump inhibitors can help control symptoms, but they don't help the problem causing symptoms.

Your provider may prescribe topical steroids taken orally. You also may take oral steroids for a short time. Topical steroids don't have the same side effects as oral steroids.

If you develop narrowing or strictures, a procedure to open up or dilate the area may be needed.

You and your provider will work together to find a treatment plan that works best for you.

Support Groups

Support groups such as American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders can help you understand more about the eosinophilic esophagitis. You can also learn ways to manage your condition and cope with the disease.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Eosinophilic esophagitis is long-term (chronic) disease that comes and goes over a person's lifetime.

Possible Complications

Possible complications may include:

  • Narrowing of the esophagus (a stricture)
  • Food getting stuck in the esophagus (common in children)
  • Severe swelling and irritation of the esophagus

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you have symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis.

References

Chen JW, Kao JY. Eosinophilic esophagitis: update on management and controversies. BMJ. 2017;359:j4482. PMID: 29133286 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29133286.

Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 138.

Groetch M, Venter C, Skypala I, et al; Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders Committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Dietary therapy and nutrition management of eosinophilic esophagitis: a work group report of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2017;5(2):312-324.e29. PMID: 28283156 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28283156.

Khan S, Orenstein SR. Eosinophilic esophagitis and non-gastroesophageal reflux disease esophagitis. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 324.

Review Date 4/12/2018

Updated by: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Smyrna, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.