Understanding Eosinophilic Esophagitis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Wyndly Care Team
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What does an EoE flare up feel like?

An EoE (Eosinophilic Esophagitis) flare-up can feel like persistent heartburn, difficulty swallowing, or food getting stuck in the throat. Additionally, individuals may experience chest pain, constant coughing, or regurgitation. These symptoms can intensify over time if left untreated.

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What Is Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) is a chronic, inflammatory condition affecting the esophagus. It's characterized by the accumulation of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, in the lining of the esophagus. This build-up can lead to damage and inflammation, affecting the esophagus's ability to function properly.

It's important to understand that EoE is not a food allergy, but rather an immune system response. The condition is often associated with other allergic diseases such as asthma, hay fever, and eczema.

Eosinophils are crucial to the body's immune response, but when too many gather in one location, they can cause inflammation and damage to tissues. In the context of EoE, eosinophils accumulate in the esophagus, causing symptoms like difficulty swallowing, heartburn, and food getting stuck in the throat.

What Causes Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) is believed to be caused by a combination of factors. The immune system's overreaction to allergens and certain genetic factors play significant roles in the development of this condition. 

Potential Allergic Reactions

The immune system's overreaction to allergens is a key factor in the development of EoE. When an allergen is detected, the body produces Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which triggers an immune response. This response can lead to the accumulation of eosinophils in the esophagus. Allergens that may trigger this response include certain foods, environmental allergens like dust mites, and pollen. Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), a condition where certain food proteins cross-react with pollen allergens, could also be a potential trigger.

Genetic Factors

EoE is also influenced by genetic factors. Some individuals have a family history of EoE, suggesting a hereditary predisposition. Moreover, certain genes have been associated with EoE, indicating a genetic component to the disease. These genes are involved in the regulation of the immune response, particularly the function and accumulation of eosinophils. Research is ongoing to better understand the interplay of these factors in EoE.

What Are the Symptoms of Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

The symptoms of Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) are often related to eating and digestion, as the disease primarily affects the esophagus. However, the severity and type of symptoms can vary greatly among individuals, and also depend on the age of the patient.

Clinical Features

In adults, the common symptoms of EoE include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), food getting stuck in the esophagus (food impaction), and chest pain that is not related to the heart. On the other hand, children and infants might experience vomiting, poor growth, weight loss, and refusal to eat. Other less common symptoms may include heartburn, upper abdominal pain, and decreased appetite. It is also noteworthy that EoE symptoms can mimic those of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), thus a thorough evaluation by a healthcare provider is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

Diagnosing Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) involves several steps to differentiate it from common disorders with similar symptoms. Physicians initially conduct a detailed patient history and physical examination, followed by specific diagnostic tests.

A key element in diagnosing EoE is the upper endoscopy, a procedure where a thin tube with a camera on the end is used to visually examine the esophagus. During this procedure, the physician may observe certain features suggestive of EoE, like rings, furrows, or white spots on the esophagus lining.

Additionally, a biopsy - a procedure to collect tissue samples from the esophagus - is often performed during the endoscopy. The samples are then examined under a microscope for the presence of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. In EoE, more than 15 eosinophils per high power microscope field in esophageal tissue are generally considered diagnostic.

Finally, physicians often perform allergy testing, as EoE is commonly associated with food and environmental allergies. The results can guide dietary modifications, a cornerstone in EoE management.

What Are the Treatment Options for Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

Treatment for Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) aims to manage the symptoms and prevent long-term complications. It often involves a multi-pronged approach, combining dietary modifications, medication, and occasionally, endoscopic dilation. Notably, as EoE is a chronic condition, ongoing management is usually required.

EoE treatments often start with dietary modifications, which may involve eliminating common allergens such as milk, soy, eggs, wheat, and nuts. An allergist or dietitian can provide guidance for implementing these changes. In some cases, an elemental diet, which consists only of amino acid-based formulas, may be recommended.

Medications for EoE include topical corticosteroids, which are swallowed rather than inhaled, to reduce inflammation in the esophagus. Proton pump inhibitors, typically used to treat acid reflux, may also be used in EoE treatment as they can help reduce eosinophil levels in the esophagus.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

For patients with EoE triggered by environmental allergens, sublingual immunotherapy may be an option. This treatment involves placing a small dose of the allergen under the patient's tongue to desensitize their immune system. Over time, this can help reduce the immune system's overreaction to the allergen, thereby reducing EoE symptoms. However, more research is needed to determine the long-term effectiveness of this treatment for EoE.

What Are the Risk Factors for Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

Several factors can increase the likelihood of developing Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE). These risk factors include having a personal or family history of allergic conditions, being male, and being of Caucasian descent. Understanding these risk factors can aid in the early detection and management of EoE.

People with a history of allergic conditions, such as asthma, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, or allergic eczema, are more likely to develop EoE. The immune system in these individuals tends to overreact to allergens, leading to high levels of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, in the esophagus. This is the hallmark feature of EoE.

EoE is more common in males than in females. While the reason for this gender discrepancy is not fully understood, it suggests that hormonal factors may play a role. Additionally, EoE appears to be more prevalent among Caucasians, indicating that genetic factors may also contribute to its development. However, EoE can affect individuals of any age, race, or gender.

It's also worth noting that certain environmental factors, such as seasonal allergens, can trigger EoE symptoms in some individuals. OAS, a condition where individuals experience allergic reactions to certain foods that contain proteins similar to those found in pollens they are allergic to.

What Complications Can Eosinophilic Esophagitis Cause?

If left untreated, Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) can lead to several complications. These include esophageal strictures, food impaction, and malnutrition. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent these complications and improve the quality of life for individuals with EoE.

Esophageal Strictures

Chronic inflammation caused by EoE can lead to the formation of esophageal strictures. This condition is characterized by a narrowing of the esophagus, which can make swallowing difficult and even painful. In severe cases, strictures can also interfere with the passage of food and liquid into the stomach.

Food Impaction

Another common complication of EoE is food impaction. This occurs when food gets stuck in the esophagus, often as a result of esophageal strictures. Food impaction can cause severe chest pain and may require emergency treatment to remove the impacted food.


Finally, the difficulties with swallowing and food impaction associated with EoE can lead to malnutrition. This is because individuals with EoE may start to avoid eating certain foods or reduce their food intake due to discomfort or fear of food impaction. Over time, this can result in significant weight loss and nutrient deficiencies.

To avoid these complications, individuals with EoE should seek medical treatment as soon as symptoms appear. This typically involves dietary changes, medication, and in some cases, allergy exposure therapy.

How Is Eosinophilic Esophagitis Related to Other Conditions?

Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) is often associated with other conditions, particularly those related to allergies and the immune system. This includes atopic dermatitis, asthma, and food allergies. Also, OAS and certain immune disorders can also be linked with EoE.

EoE and Allergies

Atopic dermatitis, also known as allergic eczema, is a condition that causes red, itchy rashes on the skin. It is commonly found in individuals with EoE, indicating a common immune response. Similarly, asthma, a respiratory condition, often coexists with EoE.

EoE and Immune Disorders

Certain immune disorders that lead to higher levels of eosinophils or IgE antibodies can also be associated with EoE. This is due to the role of eosinophils and IgE in the immune response, which is a key factor in the development of EoE.

In conclusion, understanding the interplay between EoE and other conditions can help in the comprehensive management of this disease.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can eosinophilic esophagitis be cured?

Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) isn't curable, but its symptoms can be effectively managed. Treatment often involves dietary modifications, medication to reduce inflammation, and in some cases, dilation procedures. Regular follow-ups with a gastroenterologist are necessary to manage EoE and prevent esophageal damage.

What foods should you avoid if you have eosinophilic esophagitis?

If you have eosinophilic esophagitis, it's recommended to avoid foods that trigger your symptoms. Common culprits include dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. However, triggers can vary, so it's important to work with a healthcare provider to identify your specific allergens.

What are the treatment approaches for eosinophilic esophagitis?

The treatment of eosinophilic esophagitis usually involves dietary management, medication, and in some cases, endoscopy. Dietary changes might include exclusion of specific allergens. Medications often encompass proton pump inhibitors and steroids. Endoscopy is used to alleviate esophagus narrowing when necessary.

What is the biggest trigger for EoE?

The biggest trigger for Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) is food allergens. Common culprits include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, nuts, and seafood. Additionally, environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander can also trigger EoE in some individuals. It varies from person to person.

What is the hallmark of eosinophilic esophagitis?

The hallmark of eosinophilic esophagitis is the presence of high numbers of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, in the esophagus. Symptoms include difficulty swallowing, food impaction, heartburn, chest pain, and in children, failure to thrive or weight loss. Diagnosis requires an endoscopy with biopsy.

What foods trigger eosinophilic esophagitis?

Common food triggers for eosinophilic esophagitis include dairy products, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. However, triggers can vary from person to person. A healthcare provider may recommend an elimination diet to identify specific food triggers for individual patients.

Does eosinophilic esophagitis go away?

Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) is a chronic immune system disease. It does not typically go away on its own and requires long-term management. Treatment options include dietary modifications, medication, or in severe cases, dilation procedures. Regular follow-up with a gastroenterologist is crucial for managing EoE.

What is the best medicine for EoE?

The best medicine for Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) often includes proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and swallowed corticosteroids. Dietary changes are also beneficial. However, specific treatment options should be determined by your healthcare provider considering your personal medical history and the severity of your condition.

What is the new drug for eosinophilic esophagitis?

The new drug for eosinophilic esophagitis is Dupixent (dupilumab). The U.S. FDA approved it in May 2020 for patients aged 12 and older. Dupixent is a biologic drug that reduces inflammation caused by an overactive immune response, thereby alleviating symptoms of this chronic condition.

How can eosinophilic esophagitis be cured?

Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) can't be fully cured, but its symptoms can be managed effectively. Management typically involves dietary changes to eliminate food allergens, steroid therapy to reduce inflammation, and, in some cases, dilation procedures to widen the esophagus and facilitate easier swallowing.

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