Scientists only put a name on eosinophilic esophagitis in the past couple decades, but it is fast becoming a major cause of gastrointestinal illness. EE is characterized by a build-up of white blood cells (eosinophils) in the esophagus. The cells cause inflammation and can ultimately lead to damaged tissue (or the formation of scar tissue) in the digestive tract. Resulting symptoms include trouble swallowing (dysphagia), a feeling of persistent heartburn (that doesn’t respond to antacids), abdominal pain and food getting stuck when swallowing. EE often causes feeding problems in children and can result in vomiting and failure to thrive.
EE used to be lumped together with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but it is now known to be a distinct disease with different causes. EE is believed to result from allergies (primarily food allergies but also environmental allergies).
To test for EE, doctors use an endoscopy to get a better look at the digestive tract and can also perform a biopsy of the affected tissue. Treatments can include the use of medications to suppress the immune response to allergens as well as diet therapy to limit exposure to allergy-causing foods. Allergy treatment is another option and can often prove to be more lasting than other treatments because it may eliminate the need for short-term medications and also for restrictive diets that are hard to stick with.