Doctors are diagnosing more patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a chronic inflammation of the esophagus which affects people of all ages.
About six years ago, Barbara Epes noticed a problem she had while she was eating or drinking.
"I would get this sensation that something was stuck there and I would pause and relax and it would just go down," said Epes.
Epes' two older sisters said they had similar experiences, so she chalked it up to aging. But it then started happening more frequently, and one night, a piece of steak got stuck in her throat.
"I could talk, I could breath, but I couldn't swallow anything. Even my saliva wouldn't go down," said Epes.
Epes' husband rushed her to the emergency room. She was later diagnosed with EoE.
"EoE is becoming much more common, we think over the past 10 to 15 years, because we're seeing a lot more cases of it," said Dr. Ronen Arai, a gastroenterologist at Broward Health. "Fifteen years ago, it was a diagnosis we never made."
EoE is caused by the infiltration of a specific type of white blood cells into the lining of the esophagus, leading to chronic inflammation.
"It can involve part of the esophagus. It can involve the whole esophagus. It really varies," said Arai.
While the condition is commonly seen in children, Arai said he also often sees it in adults.
"Most of them have probably had the disease when they were younger but didn't become symptomatic until adulthood," said Arai.
Symptoms include difficult swallowing, heartburn, vomiting, abdominal pain, and chest pain. While it's unclear what cases EoE, people with asthma and food allergies appear to be at a greater risk.
"In some cases, if we eliminate those foods, we can reverse the disease process, but that's not the case in even the majority of adults. It's easier to do that in kids," said Arai.
Epes underwent a procedure to open her esophagus. She controls the condition with heartburn medication.