Definition

What is esophagitis?

Esophagitis is an inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. If left untreated, this condition can become very uncomfortable that come up with swallowing, ulcers, and scarring of the esophagus. Besides causing painful, difficult swallowing, it also sometimes causes chest pain. In some instances, a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus may develop, which is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.

How common is esophagitis?

Esophagitis is commonly seen in adults and is uncommon in childhood. The most common type of esophagitis is associated with GERD (ie, reflux esophagitis). Esophageal reflux symptoms occur monthly in 33-44% of the general population; up to 7-10% of people have daily symptoms.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of esophagitis?

There are a great number of symptoms of esophagitis. However, these are some common symptoms of esophagitis, include:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Pain when you swallow (odynophagia)
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Chest pain (worse with eating)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Cough
  • Very young children may have difficulty feeding.

You should seek immediate medical attention if:

  • You have chest pain lasting more than a few minutes, especially if you have a history of heart problems, elevated blood pressure, or diabetes.
  • You may have food stuck in your esophagus.
  • You are unable to consume even small sips of water.

When should I see my doctor?

Contact your doctor if you or your child experiences this, and:

  • You also have shortness of breath or chest pain, especially if it does not occur while eating.
  • Symptoms continue for more than a few days
  • Symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your ability to eat properly
  • You also have headache, muscle aches, or fever

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes esophagitis?

Based on the conditions that cause it, there are 4 main types of this condition which are included: Reflux esophagitis, Eosinophilic esophagitis, Drug-induced esophagitis, and Infectious esophagitis. In some cases, more than one factor may be causing esophagitis.

Reflux esophagitis

A valve-like structure called the lower esophageal sphincter usually keeps the acidic contents of the stomach out of the esophagus. If this valve opens when it shouldn’t or doesn’t close properly, the contents of the stomach may back up into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux). Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which this backflow of acid is a frequent or ongoing problem. A complication of GERD is chronic inflammation and tissue damage in the esophagus.

Eosinophilic esophagitis

Eosinophils are white blood cells that play an important role in allergic reactions. Eosinophilic esophagitis occurs with a high concentration of these white blood cells in the esophagus, most likely in response to an allergy-causing agent (allergen) or acid reflux or both.

In many cases, people who have this kind of esophagitis are allergic to one or more foods. Some foods that may cause eosinophilic esophagitis include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, beans, rye and beef. However, conventional allergy testing does not reliably identify these culprit foods.

People with eosinophilic esophagitis may have other nonfood allergies. For example, inhaled allergens, such as pollen, may be the cause in some cases.

Drug-induced esophagitis

Several oral medications may cause tissue damage if they remain in contact with the lining of the esophagus for too long. For example, if you swallow a pill with little or no water, the pill itself or residue from the pill may remain in the esophagus. Drugs that have been linked to esophagitis include:

  • Pain-relieving medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.
  • Antibiotics, such as tetracycline and doxycycline
  • Potassium chloride, which is used to treat potassium deficiency
  • Bisphosphonates, including alendronate (Fosamax), a treatment for weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis)
  • Quinidine, which is used to treat heart problems

Infectious esophagitis

A bacterial, viral or fungal infection in tissues of the esophagus may cause esophagitis. Infectious esophagitis is relatively rare and occurs most often in people with poor immune system function, such as people with HIV/AIDS or cancer.

A fungus normally present in the mouth called Candida albicans is a common cause of infectious esophagitis. Such infections are often associated with poor immune system function, diabetes, cancer and antibiotic use.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for esophagitis?

Risk factors for developing esophagitis include:

  • Weakened immune system due to HIV or AIDS, diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, or other autoimmune diseases
  • Hiatal hernia (when the stomach pushes through the opening in the diaphragm between the esophagus and stomach)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy of the chest
  • Surgery in the chest area
  • Medications to prevent organ transplant rejection
  • Aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol and cigarette use

Your chance of developing an infection of the esophagus is low if you have a healthy immune system.

Diagnosis &treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is esophagitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you first and then review your medical history, there are several tests that can be used to diagnose esophagitis. These include:

Upper endoscopy.

A test in which a long, flexible lighted tube, called an endoscope, is used to view the esophagus.

Biopsy.

During this test, a small sample of the esophageal tissue is removed and then sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.

Upper GI series (or barium swallow).

During this procedure, X-rays are taken of the esophagus after drinking a substance named barium solution. Barium coats the lining of the esophagus and shows up white on an X-ray.

How is esophagitis treated?

It depends on the specific cause of your symptoms and there will be some certain treatments. Medications may include:

  • Antiviral medications
  • Antifungal medications
  • Antacids
  • Pain relievers
  • Oral steroids
  • Proton pump inhibitors (these medications block stomach acid production)

If the main reason cause your condition is food allergies

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, and chocolate.

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 guidelines.

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 might need to drink more water, take a liquid medication, or try a different medication. You may need to refrain from lying down for 30 minutes after taking medication in pill form.

Lifestyle changes &home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage esophagitis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with this condition:

  • Avoiding spicy foods such as those with pepper, chili powder, curry, and nutmeg.
  • Avoiding hard foods such as nuts, crackers, and raw vegetables.
  • Avoiding acidic foods and beverages such as tomatoes, oranges, grapefruits, and their juices. Instead, try imitation fruit drinks with vitamin C.
  • Adding more soft foods to your diet such as applesauce, cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, custards, puddings, and high protein shakes.
  • Taking small bites and chew food thoroughly.
  • Drinking liquids through a straw to make swallowing easier.
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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