What is Esophagitis?

Inflammation or irritation of the esophagus is known as esophagitis. This condition could be the result of acid reflux, it could be a side effect of certain medications, and it can also be caused by viral or bacterial infections.

There are different types of esophagitis. These include eosinophilic esophagitis, reflux esophagitis, drug-induced esophagitis, and infectious esophagitis.

Left untreated, esophagitis could potentially cause serious complications that can further damage the structure and function of the esophagus. These include Barrett’s esophagus, narrowing of the esophagus, and ulcers or holes in the esophagus.

What are the Symptoms of Esophagitis?

There are several symptoms that are associated with esophagitis.

Symptoms include

  • Feeling pain when swallowing
  • Having difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Chest pain that gets worse when you eat
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal pain

Esophagitis Causes

Certain substances and organisms can cause severe inflammation of the esophagus, leading to esophagitis. Some of the causes of esophagitis are transitory and will only cause a problem for a short time. However, some causes of esophagitis may lead to longer term problems.

One of the main causes of short-term esophagitis is vomiting. When a person is sick with some type of stomach illness, the vomiting that occurs with this will often cause irritation in the esophagus. Normally, this will resolve after the vomiting has passed.

The main cause of long-term esophagitis is gastric esophageal reflux disease (GERD). In those with GERD, acid is pushed back up into the esophagus from the stomach. When this happens over an extended period, the esophagus becomes inflamed resulting in esophagitis.

Some people will develop an allergic reaction in the esophagus that will cause eosinophils to proliferate. When eosinophils proliferate in the esophagus, an inflammation may develop. Often, this allergic reaction is caused by a food allergy with dairy products, eggs, rye, peanuts and beef being among the main allergens. Those who are severely allergic to pollen may also develop eosinophilic esophagitis.

Several different drugs are also known to cause esophagitis. Aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, tetracycline antibiotics and calcium supplements are the usual offenders.

How is Esophagitis Treated?

Your doctor will work on determining the specific cause of your esophagitis in order to provide the right treatment.

Treatment includes

If food allergies are to blame, your doctor will recommend changing your diet. On the other hand, if the condition is the side effect of medications that you’re taking, you might have to drink more water, take a different medicine altogether, or start taking a liquid version of the same medicine. 

Medications that can be prescribed to treat esophagitis include anti-viral and anti-fungal prescriptions, pain relievers, steroids, antacids, and proton pump inhibitors. 

If the esophagus has narrowed too much, and food is getting stuck in the throat, surgery might be needed in order to dilate the esophagus.

Esophagitis Prevention

The best way to prevent esophagitis is to keep acid reflux under control. This can start with a dietary adjustment – avoid eating foods that are spicy, or tomatoes and citrus fruits, which also produce acid reflux in some individuals. If diet alone does not reduce acid, it may be necessary to use one of the many acid reducing medications that are available at any pharmacy.

Esophagitis may be prevented by avoiding any food that has caused a problem in the past. Pay special attention to avoid those foods that most commonly trigger bouts of esophagitis. Taking a daily allergy medication may help to prevent pollen induced esophageal problems.

Avoid those drugs that are known causes of esophagitis if possible; there are alternatives to most esophagitis causing drugs, but consult with a physician before stopping or changing any medication.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017