Table of Contents
Definition of Angioedema
A hypersensitivity reaction (allergic reaction) that produces swelling and fluid accumulation beneath the surface of the skin, similar in appearance to urticaria (hives). Occurs in response to histamine release and typically affects the face, especially around the eyes and lips, and can be life threatening when it is severe or if it develops in the throat.
Swelling in the form of welts may also occur on the hands and feet. Hypersensitivity reaction to ingested allergens is the most common cause of angioedema.
Difficulty breathing with angioedema is a medical emergency that requires immediate hospital care.
Treatment and Symptoms
The doctor can diagnose angioedema based on the appearance of the symptoms and the person’s exposure to an allergen. Treatment may include antihistamine medications; corticosteroid medications; or for severe symptoms, an epinephrine injection. Cool cloths applied to the sites of the angioedema may further ease discomfort.
After the histamine release ends, the body reabsorbs the fluid. Relief improves as the swelling goes down, and symptoms are generally gone within three or four days. Avoiding the allergen prevents the hypersensitivity reaction and the resulting angioedema.
There is a form of angioedema, hereditary angioedema, that is an inherited genetic disorder and not a hypersensitivity reaction. Though there is similar swelling beneath the skin, there is no histamine release.
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