Patients with eosinophilic esophagitis should receive topical steroids instead of oral steroids or no treatment, according to new recommendations from the American Gastroenterological Association and the Joint Task Force on Allergy-Immunology Practice Parameters.
In a pooled analysis of eight double-blind clinical trials, monotherapy with topical budesonide or topical fluticasone was about 61% more likely than placebo to produce histologic remissions in patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (relative risk of failure to achieve remission, 0.39; 95% confidence interval, 0.26-0.58), wrote Ikuo Hirano, MD, of Northwestern University, Chicago. Although these trials differed methodologically, the results were robust enough to warrant a strong recommendation for topical steroids, wrote Dr. Hirano and coauthors of the guidelines, published in Gastroenterology (. “[T]he same inhaled steroid agents are considered very safe for use in children and adults with asthma and are routinely used in [its] primary management,” they noted.
All other recommendations in the guidelines are graded as conditional, reflecting a lack of high-quality supporting evidence. For example, one only study to date has compared topical and oral steroids for patients with eosinophilic esophagitis. In this pediatric trial, children benefited similarly from fluticasone (two puffs four times daily) and oral prednisone (1 mg/kg twice daily), but prednisone caused side effects (weight gain and cushingoid appearance) in 40% of patients, while topical steroids caused oral candidiasis (thrush) in only 15% of patients. Similarities between pediatric and adult eosinophilic esophagitis support the use of topical versus oral steroids in both groups, the guidelines conclude.
Eosinophilic esophagitis tends to be chronic and can progress to recurrent dysphagia, esophageal impactions, and stricture if left untreated. For this reason, the guidelines call for remitted patients to stay on topical steroids as maintenance therapy despite “very low confidence in the estimated benefits of [any type of] long-term therapy.” In a very small trial, 1 year of low-dose budesonide maintenance therapy (0.25 mg twice daily) outperformed placebo, but only 36% of patients maintained less than 5 eosinophils per high power field. Other studies have produced mixed results. Pending more data, the guidelines call maintenance treatment with topical steroids, proton pump inhibitors, and elimination diets “reasonable options” that comprise “a preference-sensitive area of management.”
Dietary interventions for eosinophilic esophagitis include the elemental diet (amino acid–based formulas), the empiric six-food elimination diet, and eliminating foods based on allergy testing. The guidelines cite moderate-quality evidence for the elemental diet, which induced histologic remissions (less than than 15 eosinophils per high power field) in nearly 94% of patients in six single-arm observational studies (in contrast, the rate of histologic failure with placebo is nearly 87%). However, patients may struggle to adhere to both the elemental diet and the six-food elimination diet, which has less supporting evidence. Hence, patients “may reasonably decline” these treatment options and “may prefer alternative medical or dietary therapies” to a diet exclusively based on food allergens, tests for which are potentially inaccurate, the guidelines state.
Esophageal dilation is recommended for patients with stricture based on a systematic review in which 87% of patients improved with this therapy. However, dilation “does not address the esophageal inflammation associated with eosinophilic esophagitis,” and the “assumption that no clinical improvement would occur if dilation was not performed likely overestimates [its] treatment benefit, given the reported symptom-placebo response noted in controlled trials,” according to the guidelines. Moreover, the evidence for dilation “was considered low quality due to the retrospective, single-arm design of all but one of the reports, and the lack of a standard definition for what constitutes clinical improvement.”
Anti-IgE therapy is not recommended – it failed to improve symptoms or esophageal eosinophilia in the only trial conducted to date. Because of a lack of evidence, the guidelines state that patients should receive only montelukast, cromolyn sodium, immunomodulators, anti–tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapies, or therapies targeting interleukin (IL)-5, IL-13, or IL-4 in the context of a clinical trial.
Eosinophilic esophagitis is triggered by exposure to food antigens and often overlaps with other atopic conditions, such as asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis. It has no approved treatments in the United States, although in 2018, the European Medicines Agency approved a budesonide tablet formulation.
The guideline authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.
SOURCE: Hirano I et al. Gastroenterology. 2020. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.02.038.