Angioedema is an allergic reaction characterised by swelling of some
body parts, especially the eyelids and the lips. This swelling occurs in
deeper layers of the skin due to the release of a chemical substance
called histamine which causes increased dilation of blood vessels.
Angioedema may be acquired or inherited.
Angioedema: Incidence, age and sex
Angioedema is not a very uncommon occurrence. It may affect any individual irrespective of age and gender.
Signs and symptoms of angioedema: Diagnosis
The timing of clinical onset after exposure to the allergen is
variable. It may take a few minutes or hours to develop. Angioedema is
characterised by development of puffiness of mainly eyelids and lips.
But other body parts like the ears, the hands, the feet and the
genitalia may also show swelling. Sometimes redness of the skin or
hoarseness of voice may also occur. In most cases, the clinical symptoms
subside within a few hours. Hereditary angioedema may present with
repeated episodes of swelling of lips, eyelids, voice box and presence
of abdominal cramps.
Causes and prevention of angioedema
Angioedema is most commonly a temporary acquired condition which is
caused due to an allergen. Some common allergens which may trigger
angioedema include food, pollens, drugs and insect bites. Food products
like seafood, egg whites or nuts are commonly associated with
angioedema. Similarly, it may also occur on inhalation or contact with
animal dander or pollens. Some medications like aspirin, antibiotics
like penicillin, blood pressure medications like ACE inhibitors and some
pain killers like NSAIDs are usually attributed to angioedema.
Angioedema is very rarely inherited as an autosomal dominant genetic
disorder which may be associated with leukaemia or Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Occasionally angioedema may become potentially fatal when the voice
box or the larynx is involved. Swelling of the voice box may result in
difficulty in swallowing or in severe cases, it may also lead to airway
compromise. This may cause difficulty in breathing and require immediate
The diagnosis of angioedema may be evident following a history of
exposure and physical examination by the doctor. Mild symptoms may be
alleviated by anti-allergic drugs like antihistamines or may even
resolve in a few hours without medication.
Severe cases of angioedema may be prescribed oral or injectible
steroids. You may be given an injectible drug called epinephrine in
life-threatening conditions where swelling in throat causes airway
compromise. Steps like the avoidance of known allergens and the
elimination of food and food products that trigger angioedema, may be