Esophagitis: Care Instructions

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Normal esophagus compared to one with esophagitis


Esophagitis (say "ih-sof-uh-JY-tus") is irritation of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach.

Acid reflux is the most common cause of this condition. When you have reflux, stomach acid and juices flow upward. This can cause pain or a burning feeling in your chest. You may have a sore throat. It may be hard to swallow.

Other causes of this condition include some medicines and supplements. Allergies or an infection can also cause it.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. The doctor might do tests to find the cause of your symptoms.

Treatment depends on what is causing the problem. Treatment might include changing your diet or taking medicine to relieve your symptoms. It might also include changing a medicine that is causing your symptoms.

If you have reflux, medicine that reduces the stomach acid helps your body heal. It might take 1 to 3 weeks to heal.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If you have acid reflux, your doctor may recommend that you:
    • Eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals. After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down.
    • Avoid chocolate, mint, alcohol, pepper, spicy foods, high-fat foods, or drinks with caffeine in them, such as tea, coffee, colas, or energy drinks.
    • Don't smoke or use smokeless tobacco. Smoking can make this condition worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
    • Raise the head of your bed if you have symptoms at night. You can raise it 6 in. (15 cm) to 8 in. (20 cm) by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. Adding extra pillows does not work.
    • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can help.
    • Take an over-the-counter antacid, such as Maalox, Mylanta, or Tums. Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacid medicines. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.
    • Take stronger acid reducers. Examples are famotidine (such as Pepcid) and omeprazole (such as Prilosec). Your doctor may also prescribe acid reducers for you.
  • If esophagitis is caused by an infection, you may need to take antibiotics or other medicines to treat the infection.
  • If you have esophagitis caused by a food allergy, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Food or something sharp is stuck in your esophagus and you can't swallow at all.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You are vomiting.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms of reflux.
  • You have any pain or trouble swallowing.
  • You are losing weight.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.