Difficulty swallowing? You may have eosinophilic esophagitis


(BPT) - Do you find it difficult to swallow food? Does food feel like it gets stuck in your throat when you eat? These are common symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a disease that affects an estimated one in 2,000 people in the U.S. EoE is reportedly increasing around the world.

What is EoE?

EoE is a chronic allergic condition. It involves inflammation and swelling in the esophagus. This can make it difficult to swallow food. The esophagus is the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. Chronic inflammation from EoE causes damage to the esophagus that makes eating difficult or uncomfortable.

The main symptom of EoE is difficulty swallowing, but it's not the only sign. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), other symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Problems with feeding
  • Poor weight gain and growth among infants and toddlers
  • Acid reflux
  • Regurgitation
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain in teens and adults

Infants and toddlers may refuse food or show poor growth, malnutrition or weight loss. School-age children may have chronic stomach pain, trouble swallowing and/or vomiting.

People with EoE tend to drink a lot of liquids to swallow food. They often feel full halfway through a meal. If solid food gets stuck in the throat, it is a medical emergency. Left untreated, long-term inflammation from EoE can narrow the esophagus and cause permanent damage.

Anyone can develop EoE — and although it's a rare disease, it's becoming increasingly more common. Children, adults, men and women of all ethnicities can develop the condition. For some families, EoE is hereditary.

Is EoE related to food allergies?

While doctors and researchers aren't sure what causes EoE, it can be triggered by food or environmental allergies. People with other allergic conditions like asthma and eczema also often develop EoE. Some with EoE mistakenly believe they have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). They do not realize that reflux could be related to EoE, and that treatments between the two conditions are different.

To manage your symptoms, your doctor may recommend different treatments to reduce the symptoms and inflammation.

Your doctor may recommend removing certain foods from your diet to treat EoE. This is known as a dietary restriction or diet therapy. Diet therapy removes potential food triggers from your diet. The triggers may include common food allergens, such as cow's milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fin fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame. A special amino acid-based liquid formula may be recommended by your doctor. These formulas are referred to as elemental formulas. They do not trigger allergies.

When do I need medication to treat EoE?

Your doctor may recommend medicines to help manage your symptoms. Since EoE is an inflammatory disease, treatments will focus on decreasing inflammation. A common treatment is taking pills called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). While PPIs reduce stomach acid production, they can also reduce inflammation in some EoE patients.

Another treatment a doctor may prescribe is a corticosteroid to help control inflammation. These types of medications can come in an inhaler or liquid form.

How do biologics work to treat EoE?

Your doctor may recommend a biologic medication. Currently in the U.S., there is one biologic approved to treat EoE — dupilumab. It is administered via an injection. Dupilumab can reduce the number of eosinophils in the esophagus and relieve symptoms caused by EoE inflammation. It can also improve patients' ability to swallow food.

Learn more about biologic medications at BiologicMeds.org.

If you recognize the symptoms of EoE in yourself or a loved one, speak to your doctor. You may want to see a specialist such as an allergist or gastroenterologist. If you've already been diagnosed with EoE, continue to work with your doctor for ongoing disease management and to discuss new treatment options.

Don't wait. Take an active role in your health by talking to your doctor if you're experiencing EoE symptoms. To learn more about the condition and how to manage it, visit AllergyAsthmaNetwork.org or APFED.org.