Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) is a recognized diagnosis that produces symptoms related to dysfunction of the esophagus. In EoE, large amounts of white blood cells, specifically eosinophils, collect in the inner lining of the esophagus resulting in inflammation. Typically, the esophagus is free from eosinophils and resulting inflammation, and so in EoE, a patient will begin to notice a difference in the way they can eat and swallow food. This condition can be difficult to diagnose as other conditions can present with eosinophils in the esophagus, and historically EoE has not been a common or well-known disease. Awareness has significantly improved however in the last decade, and patients are being recognized and diagnosed much earlier. This week, the FDA has approved the first ever treatment for EoE.

Symptoms of EoE

Many EoE patients also have symptoms of one or more allergic disorders like asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis (eczema) and food allergy. It is important for EoE patients to be properly assessed and tested for potential allergens as well as properly diagnosed for their atopic conditions. Similar to proper diagnosis, it is crucial that any and all allergic aspects of EoE can be properly treated in conjunction with management of the EoE. Patients benefit from a team of providers working together such as a primary care provider, allergy specialist, and gastroenterology specialist.

Early diagnosis of this chronic condition is important so patients can be educated and properly managed, sparing them from discomfort, malnutrition, and even life-threatening situations. An emergent situation can arise if inflammation becomes too great and causes narrowing in the esophagus, trapping swallowed food. In younger children, EoE typically presents with poor feeding, failure to grow properly, vomiting, reflux symptoms, and abdominal pain, whereas in adolescents and adults EoE most often presents with dysphagia (trouble or painful swallowing) and emergent esophageal food impactions.

Allergy Correlation

Allergic symptoms are similar to those of EoE
Allergic symptoms are similar to those of EoE

Airborne allergies can play a role, however adverse immune responses to food are the main cause of EoE in many patients. It can be more difficult to properly diagnose food allergies in EoE patients because many do not present with the typical symptoms associated with IgE mediated food allergy. Instead of immediate itching, flushing, hives and vomiting after ingestion of the offending food, the reactions can be delayed over hours or days. Milk, egg, soy and wheat are recognized as the most common triggers for EoE, however, conventional allergy tests often fail to detect sensitivity to the foods causing EoE. This is because most food allergy reactions in EoE are delayed and caused primarily by immune mechanisms other than classical IgE-mediated food allergy.

Diagnosis

Other than proper identification and diagnosis of atopic conditions, EoE must also be properly diagnosed itself as a disease. If EoE is suspected, a specialist performs an upper endoscopy, where a small tube with embedded camera is passed down the esophagus. The tube not only has a camera and light for inspection, but a small device to take samples, or biopsies of the esophagus. The biopsies of the esophagus are examined under a microscope for eosinophils and inflammation and are necessary to diagnose EoE. A provider looks for appropriate symptoms that were described above, visual inspection of the esophagus, and examination of tissue biopsies to make the final diagnosis of EoE.

Managing EoE

There are many viable options to managing EoE effectively. Food sensitivities or allergies can be managed by removing those offending foods from a person’s diet, but only under the direct guidance and supervision of a provider. A provider can advise eliminating a specific food, or a food group based on individual history, examination, and diagnosis.  This elimination approach can be helpful to some, but it is important to only remove what is advised, and a medical provider will closely monitor a person and regularly discuss nutrition and intake. Many times, a dietician is added to the medical care team to make sure a person is still receiving all the necessary nutrients. A provider’s goal is to carefully add back any foods that can in fact be tolerated and are proven not to incite eosinophils in the esophagus.

Aside from adjustments to a person’s diet, there are some medications providers use to help provide symptom relief and management of the EoE. It is important to note that aside from the first medication being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat EoE, typical options for treatment include proton pump inhibitors and steroids. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce acid production in the stomach and have also been found to be able to reduce esophageal inflammation in some patients with EoE. PPIs are very commonly used as a frontline therapeutic for EoE patients. If PPIs do not work for a patient, another option may be swallowed topical corticosteroids. Swallowing small prescribed doses of corticosteroids so they come in direct contact with and treat the inner lining of the esophagus is the most common treatment.

 

Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

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