Skip to Content

Corrosive Esophagitis


What is corrosive esophagitis?

Corrosive esophagitis is a condition where your esophagus is damaged by harmful substances. The esophagus is the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. The damage may cause inflammation, ulcers, or scarring.

What causes corrosive esophagitis?

  • Caustic substances: If swallowed, strong chemicals such as detergents, dishwashing liquid, and drain cleaners cause corrosive esophagitis. Young children may swallow these accidently. Adolescents and adults may swallow them to try to harm themselves.
  • Radiation therapy: This procedure uses x-rays to kill cancer cells. Sometimes the x-rays may damage your esophagus.
  • Pills: If you have a narrow esophagus, pills can get caught and damage your esophagus. Other pills can irritate your esophagus even if they do not get caught. These include antibiotics, pain medicines, and drugs for osteoporosis (weak bones).

What increases my risk of corrosive esophagitis?

  • Increased age: As you get older, it may take longer to digest foods. This may cause food to stay in your esophagus or stomach longer. You may also take more medicine that increases your risk of corrosive esophagitis.
  • Medical problems: Certain conditions cause your esophagus to narrow or the muscles not to work correctly. You may also have dry mouth, leading to decreased amounts of saliva. This may cause food to get stuck in your esophagus. Heart problems that cause your heart to get bigger and press on your esophagus can make the opening smaller.
  • Not taking pills correctly: Pills may get stuck in your esophagus if you do not drink enough water when you take them.

What are the signs and symptoms of corrosive esophagitis?

  • Chest pain that is sudden or happens after you take a pill
  • Pain when you swallow liquids or food
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting blood

How is corrosive esophagitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and other health problems. He may ask what pills you have taken, what treatments you have received, or if you have swallowed any harmful liquids. You may need one or more of the following:

  • Barium swallow: This is a test where pictures of your abdomen are taken. You will need to swallow a thick liquid called barium that helps the intestines show up better on x-ray.
  • Endoscopy: This is also called an EGD. This procedure helps healthcare providers see the inside of your esophagus and stomach using a flexible tube with a small light and camera on the end. Healthcare providers may remove a small amount of tissue from your esophagus for a biopsy. Your healthcare provider will look for any bleeding, lumps, narrowing, scars, tears, or pill pieces.

How is corrosive esophagitis treated?

Your healthcare provider may have you stop certain medicine or treatments for a period of time. This will give your esophagus time to heal. Do not stop any treatments without talking to your healthcare provider first. You may also need the following:

  • Medicine:
    • Antibiotics: Antibiotics help treat or prevent an infection in your esophagus.
    • Steroids: These help decrease inflammation.
    • Stomach acid medicine: These help decrease irritation from stomach acids.
    • Antiulcer medicine: These help decrease irritation from stomach acids. They may help increase the protective lining of the esophagus to help it heal.
  • Procedures:
    • Dilatation: This is a procedure where a small balloon, dilator, or stent is placed in your esophagus to widen it.
    • Surgery: You may need surgery to remove an area of your esophagus. It may be replaced with a portion of your stomach or colon.

What are the risks of corrosive esophagitis?

During surgery, you may bleed more than expected or get an infection. Without treatment, you may continue to feel pain and have trouble swallowing food and liquids. You may not be able to eat enough, and you may lose weight and feel weak. Sometimes, food, liquids, or vomit may get in your lungs. You may choke, get an infection in your lungs, or have trouble breathing. Too much damage in your esophagus can cause bleeding that does not stop. These conditions may be life-threatening.

What can I do to prevent corrosive esophagitis?

  • Sit or stand when you take your medicine: Do not lie down after you take your pills. Stay in an upright position for 10 to 15 minutes after you take your pills.
  • Store harmful chemicals in a safe location: Label bottles with harmful substances, and keep them out of the reach of children.
  • Ask for other ways to take your medicine: If you have a narrow esophagus, ask if you can take your medicine in liquid form. Ask if you can crush the pill and mix it with liquid to drink. If you must swallow pills, take them 1 at a time. Take each one with at least 4 ounces of liquid.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have pain that does not decrease or go away after you take your pain medicine.
  • You vomit and cannot keep food or liquids down.
  • Your stomach feels very full, and you cannot burp or vomit.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel like food or medicine is stuck in your esophagus and it does not go down when you drink water.
  • Your vomit has blood in it or looks like coffee grounds.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • You have black or bloody bowel movements.
  • Your symptoms are getting worse.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Corrosive Esophagitis

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex