What is Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
Eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE) is inflammation of the esophagus that results in difficulty swallowing food. The inflammation occurs when eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, increase in numbers in the esophagus. This influx of eosinophils stiffens the esophagus making it difficult to swallow foods. Eosinophilic esophagitis can happen in children and adults.
What causes Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
Eosinophilic esophagitis is caused by an allergy, typically to a food (or possibly an inhaled allergen). When an allergenic food is consumed the immune system produces high numbers of eosinophils which accumulate in the tissue just beneath the lining of the esophagus.
Symptoms of Eosinophilic Esophagitis
The main symptom is difficulty swallowing food. People with EOE describe a sensation of food becoming stuck in the esophagus. Some people also experience heartburn and chest pain. Children can also experience nausea, vomiting, coughing and abdominal pain.
The difficulty swallowing occurs when the high number of eosinophils stiffen the esophagus and prevent it from stretching appropriately to allow food to pass. Certain foods are more likely to cause difficult swallowing, especially meats and breads.
Diagnosis of Eosinophilic Esophagitis
If you have difficulty swallowing your doctor will refer you for an endoscopy in order to take a look at your esophagus. During the endoscopy a biopsy will be taken to confirm the presence of eosinophils in the tissue of the esophagus.
The incidence of EOE is increasing in North America. This may be due to a general increase in allergic conditions, or increased awareness and diagnosis of EOE.
Mainstream Treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis
The mainstream treatments of eosinophil esophagitis include esophageal dilation (using a tube to gently stretch the esophagus to allow the passage of food), inhaled corticosteroids (i.e. Flovent) and proton pump inhibitors. None of these treatments are without potential side effects and possible negative impacts on overall health. This is why many people are exploring Naturopathic Medicine for the management of EOE.
Naturopathic Treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis
Treatment with Naturopathic Medicine is individualized for each patient. However, there are some common treatment goals which are applied in most cases of eosinophilic esophagitis.
1. Identify food allergies and sensitivities
Only by identifying and eliminating the cause of disease can we expect to overcome the symptoms of disease. The cause of eosinophilic esophagitis is allergy – in most cases to an ingested food. In addition to skin prick allergy testing done with an allergist, Naturopathic Doctors will also perform a food sensitivity test which looks for a different type of immunoglobulin (IgG) that can also result in accumulation of eosinophils in the esophagus.
While IgG based food sensitivities are not “allergies” per se, they still result in activation of the immune system that can lead to the symptoms of EOE. The food sensitivity panel allows you to identify the most likely food sensitivities that can be contributing to your symptoms and eliminate them from your diet. For more information read the article on Identifying Food Sensitivities.
2. Normalize function of the immune system
Allergies result from an over-activation of the immune system. By modulating your immune system – decreasing over-production of eosinophils without compromising your body’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, you can decrease symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis without the negative side effects seen with pharmaceutical treatments.
The approach to normalizing the function of the immune system is different for every individual. Your Naturopathic Doctor will take a complete history and look at all the different systems of your body to determine the best treatment options for you.
3. Decrease inflammation in the esophagus
The inflammation of the esophagus due to the presence of eosinophils results in the difficulty swallowing seen in EOE. While you are identifying the underlying allergies and normalizing function of your immune system, your Naturopathic Doctor can help to decrease inflammation in the esophagus and improve symptoms. Natural supplements like omega-3 rich fish oil, slippery elm powder, marshmallow root and curcumin (turmeric) are all well-tolerated anti-inflammatories which may be used short term (or long term) to support the esophagus and allow you to be symptom free sooner.
Naturopathic Medicine can help you overcome your eosinophilic esophagitis. Book an appointment now with a Naturopathic Doctor experienced in the treatment of EOE and start the journey towards optimal health.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.