Procedure offers easier way to manage serious swallowing disease

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AURORA, Colo. (CBS) Imagine being allergic to eating food, not just peanuts or shellfish, but most, if not all, foods.

There is a swallowing disorder called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE). It's a white blood cell disease that causes the body to think food is a parasite and it then attacks itself.

A team at Children's Hospital Colorado has pioneered a way to make managing EoE a little easier.

Six-year-old Eliana "Eli" Yelpaala is one of their patients.

"I have a disease," Eli told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

"What do you call that?" asked Walsh.

"E-o-E asilic aphilaphagitis," said Eli trying to pronounce it. "It's hard to say."

Eosinophilic Esophagitis is hard to say, even harder to live with.

"It's allergy to food and it presents in her esophagus," said Sara Yelpaala, Eli's mother.

Sara explained that Eli was a fussy baby. She didn't sleep well, vomited her first foods and refused solids. Tests showed she has a dozen plus anaphylactic food allergies. At 18 months, she was diagnosed with EoE.

"It makes my esophagus hurt," said Eli.

Eli consumes a medical formula and she has only four safe foods.

"Tuna, potatoes, wheat and a kind of chocolate, Enjoy Life Chocolate," she said.

"It's not that fun,"

"The only way to know if she's allergic to a food is to biopsy her esophagus," said Sara.

So Eli tries new food, one at a time. Every six weeks she comes to Children's Hospital Colorado for an endoscopy. She used to be put under, but gastroenterologist Dr. Joel Friedlander and colleagues pioneered a way to do it without sedation.

Eli's nose and throat are numbed with an anesthetic spray. She is then distracted with a virtual reality headset while Friedlander threads a tube through her nose into her esophagus.

This time, Eli's been trying oats. It takes under 5 minutes to take pictures and collect tissue samples of her esophagus.

"It really makes the whole process with evaluating the esophagus much easier than what we used to do," said Friedlander.

Eli doesn't have high hopes for oats. "Because it's been hurting my stomach," she said.

Eli's dad, KP, says his daughter doesn't often get discouraged.

"She's just a spirited, resilient person," he said.

Having EoE is hard to swallow, but Eli's parents are optimistic she will find a healthy panel of foods that provide the nutrition she needs and are safe.