The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The contraction of the muscles helps push food from the mouth to the stomach for digestions. Esophagitis is a condition in which the esophagus becomes inflamed (swollen, irritated and red).
Symptoms of esophagitis vary depending on the cause of the inflammation. The most common sign is heartburn (a burning sensation under the breastbone that may move up to the throat). If the inflammation is severe, swallowing may be painful.
Causes and Risk Factors of Esophagitis
Several factors can cause esophagitis, including:
- Gastroesphageal reflux disease (GERD). The most common risk factor for esophagitis, GERD causes acid and partially digested food to flow from the stomach back up the esophagus, irritating the lining.
- Infections caused by fungus, bacteria or viruses. These occur most often in people whose immune systems are not working well.
- Pills. Esophagitis can result when a swallowed pill gets stuck in the throat and burns the lining, usually when not enough liquid was used to wash down the pill. It may also occur if the esophagus does not contract properly or is narrowed because of a scar.
- Injury from chemicals. When a strong chemical (e.g., drain cleaner or household cleaner) is swallowed. This can be very severe, even life threatening.
Treatment depends on the cause of the condition. In the case of GERD, eating habits may need to be changed (for example, avoiding alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, chocolate, fatty foods or overly large meals), drugs may be necessary to reduce stomach acid and the patient may need to sleep with the head raised. Infections are treated with drugs to specifically target the cause of the infection. Taking more liquid with pills and a short treatment with medications to decrease stomach acid production treats pill esophagitis. If chemicals have been swallowed, treatment may include drugs and surgery to prevent infection and reduce scarring.