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, causing problems with swallowing, ulcers, and scarring of the esophagus. In some instances, a condition known as Barrett's esophagus may develop, which is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.
What Causes Esophagitis?
Esophagitis is caused by an infection or irritation in the esophagus. An infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or diseases that weaken the immune system. Infections that cause esophagitis include:
- Candida. This is a yeast infection of the esophagus caused by the same fungus that causes vaginal yeast infections. The infection develops in the esophagus when the body's immune system is weak, such as in people with diabetes or HIV. It is usually very treatable with antifungal drugs.
- Herpes. Like Candida, this viral infection can develop in the esophagus when the body's immune system is weak. It is treatable with antiviral drugs.
Irritation leading to esophagitis may be caused by any of the following:
- GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Medications such as aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Taking a large pill with too little water or just before bedtime
- Swallowing a toxic substance
- Radiation injury as can occur following radiation treatment for cancer
What Are the Symptoms of Esophagitis?
Symptoms of esophagitis include:
- Difficult and/or painful swallowing
- Mouth sores
- A feeling of something of being stuck in the throat
If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider as soon as possible.
How Is Esophagitis Diagnosed?
Once your doctor has performed a thorough physical examination and reviewed 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 barium solution. Barium coats the lining of the esophagus and shows up white on an X-ray. This characteristic enables doctors to view certain abnormalities of the esophagus.
What Is the Treatment for Esophagitis?
Treatment for esophagitis depends on its cause. Possible treatments include:
- Medications that block acid production such as heartburn drugs.
- Antibiotics, anti-fungals, or antivirals to treat an infection.
- Pain medications that can be gargled or swallowed.
- Corticosteroid medication to reduce inflammation.
- Intravenous (by vein) nutrition to allow the esophagus to heal and to prevent dehydration and malnutrition.
- Endoscopy to remove any lodged pill fragments.
- Surgery to remove the damaged part of the esophagus.
While being treated for esophagitis, there are certain steps you can take to limit or reduce discomfort.
- Avoid spicy foods such as those with pepper, chili powder, curry, and nutmeg.
- Avoid hard foods such as nuts, crackers, and raw vegetables.
- Avoid acidic foods and beverages such as tomatoes, oranges, grapefruits, and their juices. Instead, try imitation fruit drinks with vitamin C.
- Add more soft foods to your diet such as applesauce, cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, custards, puddings, and high protein shakes.
- Take small bites and chew food thoroughly.
- Drink liquids through a straw to make swallowing easier.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco.