Angioedema (patient information)
Angioedema On the Web
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Angioedema is a swelling, similar to hives, but the swelling is beneath the skin rather than on the surface. Hives are often called welts. They are a surface swelling. It is also possible to have angioedema without hives.
What are the symptoms of Angioedema?
The main symptom is sudden swelling below the skin surface. You may also develop welts or swelling on the surface of your skin. The swelling usually occurs around the eyes and lips. It may also be found on the hands, feet, and throat. The swelling may form a line or be more spread out. The welts are painful and may be itchy. They turn pale and swell if irritated. The deeper swelling of angioedema may also be painful.
Other symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramping.
- Breathing difficulty.
- Swollen eyes and mouth.
- Swollen lining of the eyes (chemosis).
What causes Angioedema?
Angioedema may be caused by an allergic reaction. During the reaction, histamine and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream. The body releases histamine when the immune system detects a foreign substance called an allergen.
In many cases, the cause of angioedema is never found. The following may cause angioedema:
- Animal dander (scales of shed skin).
- Exposure to water, sunlight, cold or heat.
- Foods (such as berries, shellfish, fish, nuts, eggs, milk, and others).
- Insect bites.
- Medications (drug allergy), such as antibiotics (penicillin and sulfa drugs), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and blood pressure medicines (ACE inhibitors).
Hives and angioedema may also occur after infections or with other illnesses (including autoimmune disorders such as lupus, and leukemia and lymphoma). A form of angioedema runs in families and has different triggers, complications, and treatments. This is called hereditary angioedema, and it is not discussed in this article.
Who is at highest risk?
The doctor will look at your skin and ask you if you have been exposed to any irritating substances. A physical exam might reveal abnormal sounds (stridor) when you breathe in if the throat is affected.
Rarely, the health care provider may perform blood tests or allergy testing.
When to seek urgent medical care?
Call your health care provider if:
- Angioedema does not respond to treatment
- It is severe
- You have never had angioedema before
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have:
Medications used to treat angioedema include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication (corticosteroids).
- Ranitidine (Zantac).
- Terbutaline (a bronchodilator).
At the hospital, a tube may be placed in the throat to keep the airway open if the person has trouble breathing, seek immediate medical help.
Medications to avoid
Patients diagnosed with angioedema should avoid using the following medications:
- Enalapril maleate
If you have been diagnosed with angioedema, consult your physician before starting or stopping any of these medications.
Where to find medical care for Angioedema?
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
Angioedema that does not affect the breathing may be uncomfortable, but is usually harmless and goes away in a few days.
To prevent angioedema from coming back:
- Avoid irritating the affected area.
- Stay away from known allergens.
Never take medications that are not prescribed for you.