What Is Esophagitis?
Esophagitis is any inflammation or irritation of the
esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that sends food from your throat down to
your stomach. Common causes include acid reflux, side effects of certain
medications, and bacterial or viral infections. Reflux is when the stomach
contents and acids back up into the esophagus.
This disorder can cause a wide variety of symptoms,
including trouble swallowing, sore throat, and heartburn. Untreated esophagitis
can lead to ulcers or even to a severe narrowing of the esophagus, which can be
a medical emergency.
Your treatment options and outlook depend on the exact cause
of your condition. Most healthy people improve, with proper treatment, within two
to four weeks. Recovery may take longer for people with a weakened immune
system or infection.
Types of Esophagitis
Eosinophilic esophagitis is the result of too many white
blood cells in the esophagus. This is the result of your body over-responding
to an allergen. In children, this allergic reaction can make it difficult to
eat. According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, 1 in every 10,000 children
has this form of esophagitis. Common triggers include milk, soy, eggs, rye,
wheat, peanuts, beans, and beef. Inhaled allergens, such as pollen, can also
cause this form of esophagitis.
Reflux esophagitis is usually due to a condition known as gastroesophageal
reflux disease (GERD). GERD is when the stomach contents, including acids,
frequently back up into the esophagus. This causes chronic inflammation and
irritation of the esophagus.
Drug-induced esophagitis can occur when you take certain
medications with insufficient water. This causes them to linger in the
esophagus too long. Medications may include pain relievers, antibiotics,
potassium chloride, and bisphosphonates (drugs that prevent bone loss).
Infectious esophagitis is rare and can
be due to bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. You are at increased risk for
this type of esophagitis if you have a weakened immune system due to disease
and/or medications. This type of inflammation is common in people with HIV or AIDS,
cancer, and diabetes.
Symptoms of Esophagitis
Symptoms of esophagitis include:
when you swallow (odynophagia)
pain (worse with eating)
Very young children may have difficulty feeding.
Contact your doctor if you or your child experience this,
also have shortness of breath or chest pain, especially if it does not occur
continue for more than a few days
are severe enough to interfere with your ability to eat properly
also have headache, muscle aches, or fever
Seek immediate medical attention if:
have chest pain lasting more than a few minutes, especially if you have a
history of heart problems, elevated blood pressure, or diabetes
think you may have food stuck in your esophagus
are unable to consume even small sips of water
Risk Factors for
Risk factors for developing esophagitis include:
immune system due to HIV or AIDS, diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, or other
hernia (when the stomach pushes through the opening in the diaphragm between the
esophagus and stomach)
therapy of the chest
in the chest area
to prevent organ transplant rejection
and anti-inflammatory medications
and cigarette use
family history of allergies or esophagitis
Your chance of developing an infection of the esophagus is
low if you have a healthy immune system.
Potential Long-Term Health
Untreated esophagitis can lead to other, more serious health
complications related to the function and structure of the esophagus.
esophagus, damage to your esophagus
or narrowing, of the esophagus that can lead to problems swallowing
or ulcers in the esophagus (esophageal perforation)
How Is Esophagitis
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have signs of
esophagitis. Be prepared to provide a full medical history, including any previously
diagnosed conditions. List all of the prescription and over-the-counter
medications you take.
Your doctor will likely perform a physical examination. They
may also order diagnostic tests, including:
X-ray, also called an upper GI series
testing, which may include skin tests and eliminating certain foods from your
Treatment for Esophagitis
Treatment depends on the specific cause of your symptoms.
Medications may include:
pump inhibitors (these medications block stomach acid production)
If food allergies cause your condition, you must identify
trigger foods and eliminate them from your diet. Common food triggers include
tomatoes, citrus fruits, spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, onions, garlic, mint,
You can also ease your symptoms by avoiding spicy foods,
acidic foods and drinks, and raw or hard foods. Take smaller bites and chew
your food well. You should avoid tobacco and alcohol, which increase
inflammation and suppress the immune system. Ask your doctor for dietary
Surgery to dilate the esophagus may be necessary if the
esophagus has become too narrow and causes food to lodge.
If your symptoms are due to medication, you may need to
drink more water, take a liquid version of the medication, or try a different
medication. You may need to refrain from lying down for 30 minutes after taking
medication in pill form.
What Is the Long-Term
Chronic esophagitis can cause narrowing of the esophagus or
tissue damage without treatment. Your chances of developing esophageal cancer
are higher if the cells lining your esophagus have changed.
You can lower your risk of future bouts of esophagitis by avoiding
Your individual outlook depends on the cause and on your
overall health. Most people improve with treatment. Healthy people often
recover within three to five days, even without treatment. Recovery may take
longer if you have a weakened immune system.