Angioedema

It is swelling that is like hives. This swelling is deeper under the skin instead of on its surface.  You can have angioedema without hives. Swelling can be life threatening if it involves your mouth or throat.

Causes

It may be caused by an allergic reaction. During the reaction, histamine and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream. Your body releases these chemicals that lead to the swelling when your immune system detects an allergen. In some cases, the cause of angioedema is never found. Some cases may be autoimmune in nature.

Triggers are:

  • Animal dander, Pollen, mold, dust mite
  • Exposure to water, sunlight, cold or heat
  • Foods (seafood, nuts, eggs, dairy, wheat, soy)
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Medicines such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and blood pressure medicines (ACE inhibitors)

You may have hives and angioedema after infections, with autoimmune disease or cancer.  There is a form of angioedema that runs in families. It is called hereditary angioedema.

Symptoms

  • Swollen eyes, tongue, lips, hands, feet, throat.
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Breathing difficulty

Exams and tests

  • A skin and oral exam can help make the diagnosis
  • You may have blood or allergy testing.
  • It is not useful to have specific allergy testing in most cases of chronic angioedema.
  • You may have x-rays.

Treatment

  • You may not need to treat mild symptoms.
  • Moderate to severe symptoms may need to be treated.
  • Go to the emergency room if you have trouble breathing.
  • Do not go near your known triggers that can cause your symptoms.

Medicines used to treat angioedema are:

  • Antihistamines
  • Other oral prescription medicines, such as steroids and immunosuppressants or immunomodulators. You may need these if you have a chronic case (long-lasting).
  • Epinephrine shots
  • Inhaler medicines. This helps open your airways.
  • Anti-IgE therapy, omalizumab. This is a medicine to target a specific part of the allergy immune system.

To learn more

Last reviewed: 
September 2020

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