Esophagitis is a term used to describe any swelling, inflammation or irritation of the esophagus. The muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach is known as the esophagus. Frequent causes of esophagitis include regurgitation of acidic fluid from the stomach to the esophagus also known as gastroesophageal reflux. The chances of esophagitis increase because of factors like cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and cancer treatments such as radiation to the chest and surgery. Individuals who have a weak immune system because of certain medications or diseases like HIV are at a higher risk of developing infections which can lead to esophagitis.
The three main esophagitis types are reflux, corrosive and infectious. Reflux esophagitis or gastroesophageal reflux is when the acidic fluid from the stomach flows back into the esophagus. This causes inflammation and irritation to the mucous membrane of the esophagus. Factors responsible for this reflux condition include an upset stomach, vomiting, surgery, gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD and intake of certain types of foods and medications which can increase acidity in the stomach.
Corrosive or chemical esophagitis refers to an inflammation or irritation of the esophagus due to intake of harmful chemicals. This type of esophagitis causes burns to the esophageal lining and these burns could either be superficial or could penetrate the entire lining of the esophagus right up to the esophageal wall. Infectious esophagitis occurs when viruses like herpes or cytomegalovirus, yeast infections, fungus or bacteria enter the esophagus and cause inflammation. Diabetes mellitus or any other condition that reduces the body’s immunity can also cause this type of esophagitis. Some common symptoms of esophagitis are hyperacidity or heartburn, pain or difficulty in swallowing, soreness or hoarseness in the mouth or throat, vomiting or nausea and stomach pain.
Esophagitis can generally be diagnosed with the help of certain tests such as a biopsy, upper endoscopy and barium x-ray. In a biopsy, a small portion of the esophageal tissue is extracted and sent for a laboratory examination. In an upper endoscopy, a thin long tube with a micro camera attached to the end is inserted into the esophagus which enables the examiner to take a closer look at the esophageal lining, stomach and duodenum. In the case of barium x-rays, the patient is made to drink a barium solution after which an x-ray of the esophagus is taken. The barium solution forms a coat on the esophageal lining and appears white on an x-ray. This enables the examiner to ascertain the abnormalities in the esophagus. Esophagitis treatment depends on the specific causes of this condition and on how severe the inflammation or irritation is. Reflux esophagitis can be treated with the help of medication which will reduce or block the excess formation of acidic fluids in the stomach. If this method does not help, the inflamed portion of the esophagus can also be surgically removed.
In the case of corrosive esophagitis, immediate treatment is required. A small quantity of water or milk should be taken immediately after the corrosive fluid has been ingested so that chemical exposure can be minimized. Vomiting should never be induced in such cases as it can damage the esophageal lining even further. Pain medication and intravenous fluids should be administered immediately. Infectious esophagitis can be treated with the help of antibiotics, antiviral and antifungal medications. While following a diet for esophagitis and gastritis certain foods like acidic and spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, alcohol, caffeine and chocolates should be avoided completely as they can increase inflammation. Aloe vera juice and ginger are an effective natural treatment for esophagitis. Coconut milk can also be used to treat esophagitis caused by fungus.