So, what's an EGID?
EGIDs are chronic conditions of the digestive system that are caused by too many of a certain white blood cell, the eosinophil, congregating in a certain area of the system. These white blood cells respond to some sort of environmental trigger, usually food, and attack it. Please note that EGIDs are not the same thing as a food allergy, which is caused by a different reaction from the immune system.
The most common place for battle seems to be the esophagus, resulting in eosinophilic esophagitis, but the stomach, small, and large intestine can also be affected. The symptoms reflect the part of the GI tract affected, and include abdominal pain, reflux, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Patients also report that they experience other symptoms outside the digestive tract like joint pains, fatigue, and eczema.
In eosinophilic esophagitis, the esophagus can be damaged pretty severely which can lead to significant narrowing, sometimes even to the point its opening is the size of a straw. Swallowed food will get stuck and a doctor, usually in the emergency room, will need to go in and remove it. There are procedures to stretch the opening again, but these are invasive and risky.
EGIDs are pretty poorly understood by the medical community, but are getting more attention in recent years. The number of people newly diagnosed with these conditions is exploding all over the world (Around 1 in 2000 now), and a condition that was once considered one of childhood has shown up repeatedly in adults.
Treatments for EGIDs are limited and include steroids, either topical (e.g. swallowed Flovent) or systemic (e.g prednisone), and allergy medications (e.g. Singulair). Unfortunately there is an ongoing problem of even the best physicians not having heard much about EGIDs and not being able to identify them when patients come in with symptoms. It can take years to get an accurate diagnosis, which is something we see in many chronic conditions, but frustrating nonetheless.
Another potential treatment for a person living with an EGID is changing their diet and eliminating the foods that cause those eosinophils to attack. The top 8 offending foods are: dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. No problem, right? There are lots of people who are lactose intolerant or who have Celiac disease.
Unfortunately, for a lot of people with an EGID, it's not just dairy or wheat or soy, but a combination of several if not all 8 of those foods. For others, their list expands beyond the top 8 to include anything from lettuce to beef to blueberries to sweet potatoes. It can take months, or even years, to pinpoint the exact trigger foods through elaborate elimination diets that include removing all food from your diet and living on formula for a while to let things in your system calm down.
For some, they find out they can only eat a handful of foods without getting sick.
Imagine the impact that this has on a person's quality of life, no matter what age. You can experience the EGID diet first hand by taking part in the Eat Like Us day on May 14th, which wraps up National Eosinophil Awareness week. Check out their Facebook page and join in on the cause.
Just be sure to read your food labels - dairy, wheat and soy is in just about everything!
For more information about EGIDs please visit two great patient advocacy groups