Angioedema, also known as Quincke’s edema, is the swelling that occurs just below the skin surface, often around the eyes and lips. This occurs when the body produces histamine during an allergic reaction that causes the blood vessels to swell. Hives and angioedema are similar, but in hives swelling occurs in upper layers whereas in angioedema, swelling occurs in deeper tissues. Both these conditions develop due to allergic reactions to either medications or food. Angioedema is even caused by insect stings and pollen. Generally, there are two major types of angioedema – hereditary and acquired.

During an allergic reaction, angioedema can develop at any time from a few minutes to hours. It can only affect any one side of the body and usually a mild reaction occurs. In few cases, severe from of angioedema occurs causing the tongue and throat to swell and decreasing the air flow.

Causes of Angioedema

The most common cause of angioedema is allergic reaction. It can be sometimes hereditary too that may happen due to mutation in genes.

Common causes

Acquired angioedema can be caused due to conditions like:

  • Allergies, which include foods (peanuts and fish), medications (penicillin and ACE inhibitors),pollen, insect stings and bites.
  • Stress
  • Prolonged physical exercises

Less common causes

Angioedema can also be caused by certain serious disease conditions, but less frequently. They include:

  • Cancer, such as leukemia or lymphoma
  • Bacterial and viral infections, such as hepatitis
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus, in which the body system attacks its own cells and cell tissues

Symptoms of Angioedema

Swollen skin – This is the major symptom of angioedema. Swelling is usually seen in surface layers of the skin which occurs due to the fluid collection in deep skin layers. In mild cases, the swelling develops on the hands, feet, lips, eyes and genitals. In serious cases, swelling occurs in the inner lining of throat and bowel. Usually swelling lasts for three days and often appears suddenly.

Common skin symptoms include:

One can experience any of these common symptoms during the condition. In some cases, any of these can turn severe.

  • Itchy skin
  • Hives
  • Warmth and redness of the swollen skin
  • Pain over the affected area
  • Area becomes so sensitive to touch

Serious symptoms include:

Angioedema can sometimes turn to be a life threatening condition. When this is the case, it causes the following severe symptoms:

  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Abdominal cramping or pain
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Severe swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling of urethra or bladder causing difficulty in passing urine

Risk Factors of Angioedema

Certain factors raise the risk of causing angioedema condition. They are:

  • Having a allergic reaction in the past
  • Having angioedema or hives in the past
  • Having ovarian cysts
  • Underwent any dental surgery
  • Experiencing anxiety, stress, temperature changes or any injury

Treatment for Angioedema

Angioedema is not that serious condition and even without treatment, it can resolve on its own. It requires treatment only in severe conditions like breathing difficulties. The options for treatment include:

  • Antihistamines for treating mild allergic reactions
  • Corticosteroids to subside inflammation
  • Epinephrine injections for severe reactions
  • Cold compress application on the affected areas

Long term treatment

Long term treatment plans help in controlling the severity and frequency of angioedema. They include:

  • Desensitization therapy, in which increasing doses of medication is given to make the body immune to that particular allergen
  • Taking low dose of antihistamine every night

Prevention of Angioedema

People who experience angioedema are likely to experience the condition again. Therefore, it is required to take certain precautions so as to avoid the recurrence. Stay away from the things which are likely to cause angioedema. Be very careful in taking medications and use only the prescribed ones.

This is a brief description on angioedema.

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