National EOS Awareness Week: Eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorder

HARD TO SWALLOW: Mark Swift regularly choked on his food and he went undiagnosed and untreated for 20 years before finally getting an answer. Photo: CHRISTINE LITTLE
HARD TO SWALLOW: Mark Swift regularly choked on his food and he went undiagnosed and untreated for 20 years before finally getting an answer. Photo: CHRISTINE LITTLE

IMAGINE if food caused pain, nausea, reflux, was hard to swallow or even suddenly became stuck in your throat.

That can be the reality for someone living with eosinophilic esophagits (EoE) which is a chronic, allergic inflammatory disease of the oesophagus.

Mark Swift, lives in Parkes, NSW, remembers his "first choke" as just a three-year-old but his condition wasn't diagnosed for another 20 years.

"I can't remember what it was [that he choked on], I just remember the event," he said.

"I was told I had an immature oesophagus. I was undiagnosed and untreated for 20 years."

Mr Swift said the seriousness of his symptoms depended on where he was located, but other than that he had no idea what he had.

During those years he unexpectedly chocked on more meals and sometimes a drink of water would not help the blockage pass.

The only way was up and he was often forced to flee from the dining table to spit or vomit up what was stuck in his oesophagus.

It doesn't affect your airways, it's just your oesophagus - you can't drink and you can't eat.

Mark Swift

"It [his EoE] restricts the size of your throat, the muscles just don't function the way they should," Mr Swift said.

"It does't affect your airways, it's just your oesophagus - you can't drink and you can't eat."

"Things just don't move past that point."

Mr Swift fears there are other people in the community who commonly choke on their food yet have no idea they have this condition.

ausEE, a charity that supports people with eosinophilic disorders, has used National EOS Awareness Week from August 4-10 to raise awareness of the condition.

Founder and president Sarah Gray said around one in every 2000 Australians are living with the EoE which is the most common type of eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorder (EGID).

There's a high prevalence of heartburn, reflux and allergies is most people who have this.

Mark Swift

Many of them are forced to eat a restrictive diet with milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nut, shellfish and fish among the most common allergens for sufferers.

Ms Gray said a recent survey of people with EGID found many had difficulty going to a restaurant, were anxious about social gatherings and half of them felt they had been left out of a social activity because of their condition.

Mr Swift's EoE sits at the severe end of the scale and he was recently hospitalised following a severe bout where his oesophagus was perforated by food that became lodged.

Despite this, there are treatments for the condition and other than this major episode, his medication has greatly reduced the number of chokes he has.

Mr Swift has urged people with similar symptoms to get checked.

"There's a high prevalence of heartburn, reflux and allergies is most people who have this," he said.

To find out more about eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders visit ausEE online.