Angioedema is a form of severe swelling beneath the surface of the skin. In some cases the swelling occurs together with the appearance of urticaria.
Angioedema is sometimes referred to as “giant hives,” red welts develop on the surface of the skin.
Both angioedema and urticaria are usually caused by an allergic reaction to food or medication. Other substances, such as pollen, pet dander and insect bites, can also trigger angioedema.
In very rare cases, the swelling may be a symptom of a more serious health condition, such as Hodgkin’s disease. Some areas of the body, such as the face and extremities, are more likely to swell than others.
When angioedema is transmitted from a father to a child through genetic transmission, the condition is known as hereditary angioedema. Hereditary angioedema has different causes, symptoms, treatments and complications than acquired angioedema.
Angioedema is not usually a serious medical condition and leaves no lasting mark. It usually goes away on its own, even without treatment.
The most common symptom of angioedema is a swelling beneath the surface of the skin. It can occur in the feet, hands, eyes and lips.
In more severe cases, the swelling may spread to other parts of the body. Angioedema may or may not be accompanied by swelling and hives on the surface of the skin.
Additional symptoms may include stomach cramps and spots with a rash on the hands, arms and feet.
In rare cases, people may experience swelling in the throat, hoarseness and difficulty breathing.
Call emergency or go immediately to a health care room if you have swelling and trouble breathing. This can be a sign of a serious medical condition that requires rapid treatment.
Angioedema is usually the result of an allergic reaction. When this happens, your body produces histamine, which causes your blood vessels to swell.
The following allergens can trigger angioedema:
- Insect bites
- Poison oak or ivy
- Animal dandruff
- Certain types of food
It can also develop as a result of an infection or disease, such as lupus or leukemia. Hereditary angioedema occurs in people with a family history of the disease.
Factors that increase the risk of developing Angioedema:
- A previous appearance of angioedema or urticaria
- A previous allergic reaction
- A family history of angioedema
- Abrupt changes in temperature
- Stress or anxiety
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms and medical history. During the exam, your doctor will examine your areas of swelling.
Your doctor can also listen to your breathing to see if your throat has been affected.
It is important to tell your doctor if you have recently been exposed to certain substances that have previously triggered an allergic reaction in you. This can help your doctor determine the specific cause of your reaction.
Your doctor will perform a series of blood tests if hereditary angioedema is suspected. These tests measure the levels of certain proteins in the blood. Low levels can indicate a health problem related to inflammation and swelling.
People with mild symptoms of angioedema may not need treatment. However, those with moderate or severe symptoms may require certain medications to help relieve itching and intense swelling. These medications may include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
Certain home remedies can also help relieve symptoms. These include:
- Apply cold and wet compresses
- Wear loose cotton clothing to avoid further skin irritation
What is the long-term prognosis for someone with angioedema?
In most cases, angioedema is a harmless condition that will disappear in one to three days. However, this can be dangerous when the swelling occurs near the throat.
A swollen throat or tongue can block the airways and make breathing difficult. Severe angioedema can also cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. In such severe cases, emergency treatment is needed.
The best way to prevent angioedema is to avoid known and suspected allergens.
You should also try not to irritate the areas of the body that have been affected previously. Taking these preventive measures can help reduce the risk of having another episode in the future.