Caustic Injury to the Esophagus

Caustic injuries to the esophagus are tissue damage caused by swallowing a toxic or caustic substance. There are three types of injuries:

  • Superficial injury
    A minor damage to the surface lining of the esophagus.

  • Damage to the esophagus wall

  • Perforation or rupture of the esophagus
    This severe damage requires surgery.


There are many caustic chemicals that can injure the esophagus when accidentally ingested, the most common of which are lye and acids.

Symptoms of Caustic Injury

Many chemicals that cause caustic injury to the esophagus create immediate pain and are therefore quickly vomited. However, there are other chemicals, such as the lye found in drain opener products, which can cause severe injury without producing pain, having any particular taste, or creating an urge to vomit.

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you swallowed anything that you suspect can hurt you, don’t wait to see if it’s painful - call your doctor or a local poison control center immediately or go to the emergency room.

If you accidentally ingested lye or acids, do not try to neutralize it with baking soda or drink anything without consulting your doctor first.

Treatments for Caustic Injury

The treatments for this condition include:

  • Corticosteroid to prevent scar tissue formation and stricture or narrowing of the esophagus
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Intravenous line to prevent dehydration and malnourishment and to avoid further damage to the esophagus from eating and drinking.
  • Medications to reduce gastric acid secretion
  • Surgery to remove the damaged tissues, if the esophagus is severely injured.

If improperly treated, wound to the esophagus may form scar tissues when it heals. This scar tissue can cause stricture, or narrowing of the esophagus that can lead to swallowing difficulties and pain.

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