I Couldn’t Swallow! When Food Allergies Cause an Allergic Esophagus

I was eating roasted chicken at a chain restaurant the first time it happened. The meat got stuck somewhere in my esophagus and wouldn’t go down. Water didn’t help; in fact, it worsened the pain. I wasn’t choking and I could breathe, but my throat and chest felt like it was exploding. Tears dripped from my eyes, my face flushed, and I gripped onto the table. My children, then still in high school, looked as scared as I felt. Luckily, after a few very long minutes, the meat finally dislodged.

I blamed the whole incident on reflux since I’d been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) years ago. Or, I thought, it could have something to do with my hiatal hernia, the other diagnosis I got long ago when I reported pain in my chest. When other strange symptoms popped up and tests came back confirming celiac disease and myriad food allergies, I suspected something else might be causing my throat to constrict.

The fourth doctor I saw performed an upper endoscopy and diagnosed eosinophilic esophagitis (EE or EoE). In simple terms, I have an allergic esophagus. Ah ha! I am extremely sensitive to even a tiny bit of soy and the chicken in the chain restaurant was cooked with soy oil. Thinking back, I can now pinpoint what foods I consumed–that I now know I’m allergic to–that caused food to get stuck.

Eosinophil

Eosinophil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what exactly is EE? Basically, it’s when the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach, has severely elevated levels of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. Eosinophils can attack the gastrointestinal system and cause vomiting and difficulty swallowing food. Reviewing my many lab reports over the years, I always had high eosinophils. Hmmm.
Symptoms of EE vary from person to person. Episodes like mine—inability to swallow food or vomit food up– are common. In severe cases, food stays stuck and medical help is needed. Some people may experience heartburn-like symptoms, but the symptoms frequently do not improve with acid blocking medications.

Diagnosis is made through an upper endoscopy. A doctor looks at the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small bowel and takes tissue samples (biopsies) to examine under a microscope. An abnormal number of eosinophils indicates EE. Other features of EE include whitish spots, long furrows, corrugated rings, or a lining that looks like crepe paper and is easily torn.

When first diagnosed, I used a steroid inhaler (sprayed into my mouth and swallowed) to reduce the inflammation and reduce the eosinophils. According to research, relapse after treatment occurs in at least 25 percent of patients. Fortunately, by eliminating the foods I react to, my EE has been kept under control.

If you suspect you have an allergic esophagus, make an appointment with a gastroenterologist who has experience in diagnosing EE (it’s a fairly new diagnosis but becoming more and more prevalent).

Here are some other useful resources:

www.curedfoundation.org

www.youtube.com/watch?v=op5SyHob6xo
www.eosinophilicesophagitishome.org
www.mayoclinic.org/eosinophilic-esophagitis
medicalxpress.com/news/2012-06-food-diet-difficulty-swallowing-throat.html
www.scoop.it/t/food-allergies-and-eosinophilic-esophagitis

New Allergy Causes Trouble Swallowing – WDBJ7 | @scoopit http://sco.lt/5AXW0P

22 thoughts on “I Couldn’t Swallow! When Food Allergies Cause an Allergic Esophagus

  1. I have some food allergies, one is to Pepsi, of all things. It’s actually the food coloring used that causes the allergic reaction. When you’re allergic to a food coloring there are a lot more things to be careful of!! I wonder why more people are allergic now than in times past. Is our environment killing us?

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    • Erestor says:

      No, it’s our addiction to everything being surgically clean. When people weren’t obsessed with everything being so spotless all the time there were far fewer allergies. To everything, not just food.

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  2. Thank you for this description! I’ve always wondered if I had EE, but the online descriptions never really matched my reactions. This describes how I react to a “t”. And my reactions are to chicken, as well. And, it’s sometimes, but not other times. Thanks again!
    –Jeanne
    Art of Gluten-Free Baking

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  3. Very interesting! I had an allergy specialist tell me that he believed that I had this and also gluten intolerance several years ago but I was not ready to pursue it at the time. I was having a lot of trouble swallowing foods and it got worse over time. Since finally deciding to eliminate my troublemakers, I have not had any problems. I am loving your site; it is helping me learn so much about how to approach my challenges. And it is more accessible than doctors and specialists! Thanks for being there!

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  4. I am so happy to hear I am helping and really glad you wrote to tell me. Sometimes you wonder if anyone out there is reading your blog. LOL! I hadn’t had too much trouble lately with EE until recently. I kept taking heartburn medicine before realizing it was my food allergies causing my EE to act up! I’ve been traveling this month and think I ate a lot of wrong things.
    I am you are feeling better by eliminating your reactive foods!!!

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  5. Thanks for this! I also have this condition, but I never knew the medical name till now. I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but I’m allergic to everything under the sun so it makes sense! I have whats known as Oral (Pollen-Food) Allergy Syndrome, basically meaning that I’m allergic to all raw fruits and vegetables, sprouted grains, nuts, etc. I can eat many of these foods cooked, roasted and unripe, for example a greenish banana doesn’t do much harm. My allergies are seasonal as well, so in the spring I really have to stay away from raw produce! A couple years ago I was choking nearly every day. Similarly I had a bad choking spell with chicken, but thankfully on the way to the hospital the bite went down! I’m going to look into the steroid inhaler, but luckily it hasn’t been bad lately. I’m also a registered dietitian so I’m very much aware of what I eat and whats going on with my body, sadly I’d fare much better on a processed food diet! Ugh! Thanks again! 🙂

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    • Hi Shealy, Somehow I missed your email . . . we sound like we have a lot in common in regards to allergies though I find it interesting that you do better on a processed diet! I’ve been noticing I’m reacting more to fruits and vegetables during certain times of year and depending on what part of the country I’m in. I’ve been traveling this week and having an awful time with EoE and don’t really know what’s triggering it because I’m not cooking the food. So frustrating. Anyway, thank you for writing (and sorry for the late response!). Let’s stay in touch. It’s nice to connect with someone who understands. I’m on Facebook at
      http://www.facebook.com/adventuresofanallergicfoodie.com

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  6. Hi! My husband was just recently diagnosed with EE. He spent 16 hours trying to clear his chest but the food stuck was stuck. He had to go under so they could take out the blockage and they gave him medication to take for the inflammation but I still want to know what he’s allergic to. I have my suspicions but is there a certain test that you had done to determine your EE allergen/s?

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  7. Jen says:

    This is exactly what has been happening to me for twenty years (I’ll be 40 this year). I recently cut gluten out of my diet and I hVent had any trouble with dysphasia since. Today though I ate a pretzel at a ball game and it happened all over again. After this evening I am totally done with all gluten! It was miserable! I also recently discovered that I, allergic to Kiwi. It’s crazy what food can do to you. I hate that I’m just now discovering all my swallowing issues are due to gluten.

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