- by Medikoe Health Expert
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- Feb 09 2017
What is Angioedema?
Angioedema is the rapid edema, or swelling of the lower layer of the tissue just under the skin or mucous membranes, where the fluids build. Angioedema is usually an allergic reaction but can be hereditary at times. While in some cases, the exact cause can not be determined. The condition is very similar to urticaria, or hives, but one major difference is that urticaria affects only the top layer of the skin while angioedema affects the lower layer. It is also very common to have both urticaria and angioedema at the same time.
Types of angioedema:
There are 4 main types of angioedema, which are:
Allergic angioedema: it is the most common type of angioedema, affecting people with allergy to certain foods, pollen, medication etc. This type of angioedema is not chronic and can be prevented by avoiding the allergen.
Hereditary angioedema: this type of angioedema is inherited and runs in the family. In this case the patient has low levels of protein C1-esterase inhibitor.
Drug-induced angioedema: some medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors can also cause angioedema.
Idiopathic angioedema: the cause of an idiopathic disease is not clear and similar is the case with idiopathic angioedema.
Angioedema can be caused by:
Allergens like pollen, insect bites, reaction to medications like penicillin etc. may trigger angioedema.
ACE inhibitors used for treatment of hypertension can also cause angioedema.
Pregnancy, infection, trauma, or contraceptive pills may also trigger angioedema.
In some cases, the exact cause can not be identified.
Some common symptoms of angioedema are:
Swelling in the skin which may or may not be itchy.
The swollen area can have a tingling or a burning sensation.
The swelling develops rapidly over a course of minutes or hours.
In some cases, angioedema can be very extreme and lead to complications like:
Violent vomiting and dehydration due to angioedema of gastrointestinal tract.
Angioedema in the lungs can cause shortness of breath, wheezing etc.
Angioedema of larynx can cause asphyxiation and can even be fatal.
Such complications of angioedema require immediate medical intervention and treatment.
The diagnosis of angioedema can be simply done in most cases by observing its clinical appearance and accompanying symptoms. The next step is to determine the cause of angioedema. For this, the doctor may ask you to undergo allergy testing to identify the allergen. This may involve blood test, skin prick test etc. If the doctor is unable to point out the allergen, the doctor may check for the levels of C1-esterase inhibitor. In most cases, these steps should be sufficient for diagnosis and determining the cause but in a few cases, the cause remains unclear.
The treatment depends on the type (acute or chronic) angioedema, the health of patient, and on other similar factors. Some commonly employed treatment options are:
Oral antihistamines are prescribed to provide relief from angioedema.
The doctor may also prescribe allergy shots to reduce your sensitivity to the allergen.
Chronic cases are treated by corticosteroids using intramuscular injection.
Severe cases which spread rapidly and pose a risk of death by choking are treated in the emergency department by injecting adrenaline.
Angioedema can be prevented to a significant extent by avoiding the allergens, if any. People with a family history of angioedema should also stay extra cautious and always look out for symptoms. People with severe allergy should carry preloaded adrenaline injector to avoid life-threatening circumstances.
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