Novel Ideas at Children’s Hospital Colorado Make Life with Eosinophilic Esophagitis Easier

According to a publication from WCAX, care providers at Children’s Hospital Colorado are devising new ways to make life with eosinophilic esophagitis easier. One patient, six-year-old Eliana Yelpaala, is already benefiting from the hospital’s creative approaches to treatment.

About Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) is essentially an allergic reaction to food as it travels down the esophagus. Unlike most people with food allergies, who might only be allergic to one or two things, people with EoE may be allergic to most foods they try. Yelpaala, for example, has over a dozen unique food allergies. She has only four “confirmed safe” foods — tuna, wheat, potatoes, and special allergy-friendly chocolates.

When food triggers an allergic reaction in someone with EoE, white blood cells called eosinophils flock to the esophagus and build up there. These white blood cells are the immune system’s response to what it perceives as foreign pathogens. The buildup of immune cells can cause prolonged inflammation, and can damage the esophagus over time — leading to difficulties with swallowing.

EoE diagnoses have become increasingly common in the past decade (only existing in medical literature for the last twenty years). Initially, physicians believed the increasing number of diagnoses reflected better and more widespread testing methods. However, newer studies suggest that the occurrence rate of EoE is, in fact, increasing — similar to the growing number of people living with asthma or allergies.

Novel Solutions to Make Treatment Easier

There’s no way to reliably predict what foods Yelpaala will have allergic reactions to — figuring that out is trial and error. Yelpaala try one new food at a time, and if it hurts her stomach or esophagus, she and her family visit Children’s Hospital Colorado to run tests.

“The only way to know if she’s allergic to a food is to biopsy her esophagus,” Sara Yelpaala, Eliana’s mother, said to WCAX. Every six weeks, Yelpaala’s family takes her to the Children’s Hospital for an endoscopy to check the condition of her esophagus.

Because of her age, Yelpaala used to be put under for the non-surgical procedure. However, creative minds at the hospital have found a way to avoid sedating the child — first, physicians apply a numbing spray to Yelpaala’s nose and throat. They then give her a virtual reality headset to wear while researchers thread an endoscopy tube through her nose. Yelpaala can’t feel the doctors checking her esophagus, and the headset helps her stay focused and relaxed. The procedure can be done easily in under five minutes, even when taking tissue samples.

“It really makes the whole process with evaluating the esophagus much easier than what we used to do,” says Children’s Hospital gastroenterologist Dr. Joel Friedlander.

What do you think of this novel approach to endoscopy? Why is it important to consider how we treat someone, in addition to what we treat them with? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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