The esophagus functions as a conduit for food after it has been chewed and swallowed. Eosinophilic esophagitis is an allergic reaction that occurs in the esophagus. In people with this allergy, the immune system produces too many white blood cells called "eosinophils," which cause inflammation in the esophagus (esophagitis).
Eosinophilic esophagitis affects both children and adults, but is more common in men. People with asthma and food or environmental allergies have a much greater chance of developing it. Eosinophilic esophagitis is not that common, affecting one to four of every 10,000 people in the United States. So it's very important to seek care at a medical center with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals experienced in the care of patients with this allergic disorder. When treated effectively, the prognosis for people with eosinophilic esophagitis is excellent.
The Center for Advanced Digestive Care (CADC) of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center offers patients with eosinophilic esophagitis a team of professionals that includes gastroenterologists, allergists, and nutritionists who can help guide patients toward therapies and dietary changes to reduce or prevent their symptoms.
Symptoms of Eosinophilic Esophagitis
Symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis vary from person to person and may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Acid reflux that doesn't respond well to medication
- Trouble eating and swallowing food
- Chest pain
- Food getting stuck in the throat
- Having to drink a lot of fluid to finish a meal
- Feeling too full to continue eating halfway through a meal
- Stunted growth or poor weight gain in children
- Vomiting after eating
Diagnosis of Eosinophilic Esophagitis
Doctors typically take a patient's medical history and perform testing for allergies. Other tests may include:
- Endoscopy : examination of the esophagus using a flexible tube with a camera at its tip. The doctor will check for physical signs of inflammation and an increased number of eosinophils.
- Biopsy : examination of a tissue sample taken from the esophagus to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis
NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell gastroenterologists and allergists collaborate to treat patients with eosinophilic esophagitis. While there are no medications specifically for this disorder, some patients benefit from steroids to help reduce swelling in the esophagus.
Reactions related to eosinophilic esophagitis might take days or weeks to develop, which is important to remember when beginning a food elimination plan. It might take some time after avoiding a particular food to determine whether that strategy worked. Once testing and food elimination clarify which foods or substances a patient needs to avoid, a nutritionist can help tailor a diet that eliminates these foods.