An enteric coating is a barrier applied to oral medication that controls the location in the digestive system, where it is absorbed. Enteric refers to the small intestine, therefore enteric coatings prevent release of medication before it reaches the small intestine.
Most enteric coatings work by presenting a surface that is stable at the highly acidic pH found in the stomach, but breaks down rapidly at a less acidic (relatively more basic) pH. For example, they will not dissolve in the acidic juices of the stomach (pH ~3), but they will in the alkaline (pH 7-9) environment present in the small intestine. Materials used for enteric coatings include fatty acids, waxes, shellac, plastics, and plant fibers.
Drugs that have an irritant effect on the stomach, such as aspirin, can be coated with a substance that will dissolve only in the small intestine. Likewise, certain groups of azoles (esomeprazole, omeprazole, [[pan and all grouped azoles) are acid-unstable. For such types of drugs, enteric coating added to the formulation tends to avoid the stomach's acidic exposure, delivering them instead to a basic pH environment (intestine's pH 5.5 and above) where they do not degrade, and give their desired action.
Recently, some companies have begun to utilize enteric coatings on fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) supplements. The coating prevents the fish oil capsules from being digested in the stomach, which has been known to cause a fishy reflux (fish burps).