What is angioedema?
When your body has a reaction to something you’ve come in contact with, you may have swelling beneath your dermis. A buildup of fluid beneath these deep layers of your skin typically occurs around the eyes, lips, genitals, hands, or feet. This type of swelling is called angioedema.
You may also experience urticaria, also known as hives. About 10% to 20% of people experience angioedema.
Symptoms of angioedema
Angioedema is swelling under the surface of your skin. This swelling may be painful. It typically occurs on your face, throat, hands, and feet. You may also experience swelling in your abdomen or other areas of your body. Your angioedema may also include hives.
Common symptoms accompanying the swelling include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen eyes and mouth
- Swollen lining of the eyes, called chemosis
Causes of angioedema
There are four common causes of angioedema:
- Allergic angioedema: This type of swelling is caused by an allergic reaction to something you’ve come in contact with. You may also experience anaphylaxis.
- Idiopathic angioedema: This type of swelling has no specific cause but can be triggered by stress or infection.
- Drug-induced angioedema: This may be a side effect of certain medications.
- Hereditary angioedema: This swelling is caused by inherited genes and typically occurs in your parents as well.
The most common cause of angioedema is an allergic reaction. You may be able to prevent this swelling by avoiding certain foods and environmental triggers.
Diagnosis for angioedema
Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose angioedema. Visit your doctor and inform them of your symptoms. To identify the specific cause of your angioedema, they may send you to an allergy and immunology specialist. This specialist will be able to determine your appropriate course of treatment.
Angioedema is typically a symptom of another medical condition. It can be difficult to determine the main cause of your swelling. There’s not a single test that can diagnose you. Your healthcare provider may need to do different checks and tests to get to the root of the problem. They will likely:
- Ask you about any other symptoms and your medical history
- Order allergy tests, which may include a scratch test
- Run a blood test to determine if your genetics play a factor
Treatments for angioedema
Once your doctor has determined the cause of your angioedema, they will be able to prescribe the correct form of treatment. Treatment plans vary. You may be treated for other causes that will reduce your swelling once they are addressed. Your doctor will treat you for allergic or non-allergic angioedema after they’ve diagnosed its cause.
There are methods that will reduce swelling and help provide fast relief from the pain. Seek immediate medical care if these treatments do not relieve your symptoms and your swelling worsens, or if you find that your airway is blocked.
If your angioedema is caused by an allergic reaction, an antihistamine may reduce your swelling. Anti-inflammatory medicines including corticosteroids may be prescribed if your symptoms have worsened.
A severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can accompany your angioedema. If this occurs you will need an epinephrine injection. If you know that you have a severe allergy, you should keep an epinephrine injector with you.
Allergic angioedema that lasts for long periods is classified as chronic. It may be treated with anti-inflammatory medications. These include medicines that target leukotrienes, which are thought to play a major role in allergic reactions.
Another medication that may be used to treat your angioedema is omalizumab. This protein mimics your body’s antibodies in order to reduce your sensitivity to allergens.
Hereditary angioedema cannot be treated by antihistamines and corticosteroids. To treat this rare form of angioedema, you’ll need to take medications that boost your acute-phase protein levels. These medications include danazol, tranexamic acid, and others.
The most common cases of angioedema are from acute allergic reactions. Changing your lifestyle to avoid the substances that cause your body’s reaction can help prevent future swelling and pain.
Complications and side effects of angioedema
Different medications may have different side effects. These depend on the cause of your angioedema and your doctor’s prescription. If you experience severe side effects while taking your medication, you should contact your doctor immediately to discuss potential complications from your medication.
If you are taking a medication to boost your acute-phase protein levels for hereditary angioedema, you could experience these side effects:
- Weight gain
- Excessive body or facial hair growth
- Deepening of voice
- Irregular or absent periods in women
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
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