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Could Your Acid Reflux Symptoms Be Caused by Allergies?

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Here’s what you need to know about eosinophilic esophagitis.

woman with hand on chest

Heartburn feels as bad as it sounds, and it’s an unfortunately common occurrence for more than 60 million Americans who experience the condition at least once a month, according to the American College of Gastroenterology (some studies put the number of people who experience it daily at higher than 15 million). Since heartburn can often occur due to acid reflux, which happens when acids from your stomach wash back up into the esophagus, it’s easy to write it off as an issue with your diet or lifestyle. And you might think to treat it accordingly, with lifestyle changes like eating smaller meals, avoiding tight clothing, and taking medication like Nexium 24HR, which helps your stomach produce less acid and gives you all-day, all-night protection from frequent heartburn (heartburn that occurs two or more days per week).

But it’s possible that your acid reflux is the result of something else altogether: your allergies.

Approximately one to four of every 10,000 people in the United States has a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an allergic inflammatory disease and typically chronic disorder. With EoE, there’s a build-up of white blood cells called eosinophils in the tissue of the esophagus. Those white blood cells, which typically aren’t found in the esophagus, can cause inflammation, which can lead to symptoms like persistent heartburn.

While acid reflux can also cause eosinophils in the esophagus, about 50 percent of patients with EoE also have seasonal allergies or asthma, while others have food allergies or eczema, suggesting there may be a link between EoE and allergies. (Twenty-five percent of patients with food-induced EoE report seasonal variations, but true pollen-induced EoE is occurs in maybe 1 percent of patients.)

So how do you know if it’s plain old acid reflux or EoE? You’ll have to head to an allergist and gastroenterologist, who may perform food allergy testing and/or an upper endoscopy to check your esophagus for inflammation. Reflux can typically be diagnosed with a recap of your clinical history and a description of your symptoms, but your doctor may take a biopsy from your esophagus to see if there are enough eosinophils present to confirm an EoE diagnosis.

If you have EoE, the treatment options will be different, as there are no medications designed specifically for EoE. If you are diagnosed with specific food allergies, your doctor may have you remove some foods from your diet. An allergist or immunologist can also help you manage any related conditions, like asthma.

Because there isn’t a ton of information about EoE, it’s important to work closely with your doctors to figure out the right management plan for you. If you’re suffering from regular heartburn, no matter what the cause, head to your doc to get to the bottom of it—because no one should have to suffer through that kind of discomfort, even if it’s just seasonal.

Get more great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.