Know the basics
What is angioedema?
Angioedema is swelling underneath the skin that is caused by an allergic reaction. It is a similar to hives except hives affects the surface of the skin and can cause itchiness. During an allergic reaction, your body reacts to an allergen (a foreign substance causing the body to react) by releasing histamine into the bloodstream. Angioedema can affect the lips and around the eyes. In severe cases, angioedema can cause swelling in the tongue and throat that can lead to difficulty breathing. These can be life-threatening and will require medical attention.
How common is angioedema?
Angioedema is a common condition. About 15% to 20% of all people will have at least one episode of hives or angioedema in their lifetime. It can affect both male and female at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of angioedema?
The main symptom is swelling of deep layers underneath the skin. It can sometimes be red, warm, tender and painful. Swelling at one spot is usually present for only a day or two, but swelling will move from one spot to another and last for several days or may become chronic. Chronic angioedema, although uncomfortable and irritating, usually will not become more serious.
Angioedema can occur anywhere on the body but more often involves eyelids, lips, tongue and throat. Outside the body it is usually not dangerous. It can also occur inside the body, in intestines and lungs (airways), where it can potentially cause breathing difficulty, which can be serious and even fatal.
There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Mild symptoms may not need treatment. Moderate to severe symptoms may need to be treated. Contact your doctor if the symptoms last for several days or if you are experiencing difficulty breathing and your symptoms worsen.
Know the causes
What causes angioedema?
Usual causes are allergic reactions to new drugs, eating new foods, and wearing new perfumes. But even foods or drugs used in the past without problems can cause an allergic reaction later. Angioedema cannot be caught and is not an infection, although infections can cause it. Certain types are hereditary.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for angioedema?
There are many risk factors for angioedema, such as:
- Allergy to food or other chemicals;
- Autoimmune disorders such as lupus, and leukemia and lymphoma;
- Family history of angioedema.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is angioedema diagnosed?
The doctor will most likely examine the swollen skin and the tendency of swelling to return before giving a proper diagnosis. Blood tests may be done but usually will not affect the type of treatment given. Your doctor may also review your family history for angioedema.
How is angioedema treated?
Treatment is usually used to treat moderate to severe symptoms. Mild symptoms may not need treatment. If the cause is known, it is important to treat that first. Treatment of symptoms may include:
- Application of cold compresses may provide comfort. Lotions and creams don’t usually help because they don’t get deep enough when they’re applied to the skin.
- Antihistamines works by reducing the histamines in the blood. If the allergen is no longer present, the angioedema will resolve. If the allergen is still present, antihistamines may be taken regularly to manage the angioedema. Antihistamines may have side effects (drowsiness or dry mouth) but some antihistamines may have fewer side effects than others.
- Steroids are more potent drugs (prednisone or other steroids). They are used to suppress the immune system. They may be needed for severe cases when antihistamines alone cannot control the angioedema.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage angioedema?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with angioedema:
- Use cold compresses on swollen and warm areas.
- Take your medications as instructed by your doctor and pharmacist.
- Create a diary for any possible allergen causing the angioedema. Such as any new foods, drugs, soaps, perfumes or clothes. This will make it easier for you to avoid these items.
- Ask your doctor about your drugs.
- Call your doctor if angioedema doesn’t respond to 2 or 3 days of antihistamine therapy.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Print edition. Page 71
"Angioedema: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000846.htm. Accessed July 11, 2016.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017