Angioedema

If you have allergies, you may notice that your eyes or lips may become puffy or swollen. This is a condition called angioedema.

Angioedema is swelling in the deep layers of your skin and mucous membranes. It’s similar to hives, but doesn’t cause your skin to itch.

The swelling you have with angioedema is caused by leaky blood vessels. Part of your blood, called plasma, leaks into the tissue under your skin and mucous membranes. This causes these tissues to swell.

If angioedema comes on quickly, it can block your airway and kill you. If you have new swelling on your face or in your mouth that comes on suddenly, or if you have trouble breathing, call 911 right away.

Causes

Angioedema is usually caused by an allergic reaction to food or medication.

An overactive immune system can also cause angioedema. Infections and injury can also cause it in some people, as can cold, heat and exposure to the sun.

Angioedema can run in families. This is called hereditary angioedema. This form of angioedema is rare, but it’s often more serious than other types. It usually involves the hands, feet, gut, and airway.

About half of the time, the cause of angioedema is unknown. It usually goes away on its own.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms you may get with angioedema include:

  • Swelling in the face, mouth, and genitals
  • Swelling of the hands, feet, and belly
  • Burning or pain in the swollen areas, and
  • Slight redness of the swollen areas

Your symptoms may happen suddenly, and they may be scary. If your airway is affected, you may have a hard time breathing. If your gut is involved, you may have belly pain and swelling. You may also get diarrhea or feel nauseated.

Diagnosis

Your health care provider will ask you about your symptoms and whether anything may have triggered your symptoms. It’s important to tell your provider if you have any family members with similar problems.

During your exam, your provider will look at how far the swelling has spread and whether you also have hives. Your airway and gut may be checked for swelling. In some cases, you may need tests to rule out other problems. Your provider may also test for hereditary angioedema.

Treatment

The treatment of angioedema depends on its cause. Often it’s treated with drugs called antihistamines. You may also be given steroids. These are drugs that reduce swelling. Blood plasma products may be used if you have hereditary angioedema.

You may also be given pain medications, fluids, and oxygen.

If an infection caused your angioedema, it will also be treated.

Once your angioedema has been treated, the next step is to make sure it doesn’t come back.

Medications may be recommended if your angioedema is severe. Because of their side effects, some of these medications are not recommended for everyone.

Things to Remember

Angioedema is swelling of the deep layers of the skin and mucous membranes.

The cause of angioedema is often unknown.

Although rare, angioedema can be fatal. Seek urgent medical attention if you have swelling around your mouth and tongue or have any trouble breathing.

What We Have Learned

  1. Angioedema is never fatal. True or False?
    The answer is False. If angioedema blocks your airway, it can kill you.

  2. Swelling in the face, mouth, and genitals is a symptom of angioedema. True or False?
    The answer is True. It can also affect your gut and airway.

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