What is angioedema?
It is a buildup of fluid in layers of the skin. Angioedema causes swelling on the skin, tongue, intestines, genitals, or throat. This swelling can last for up to 3 or 4 days and can be reduced and managed with medication. Except for angioedema occurring in the throat and intestines, in other parts of the body angioedema is harmless.
Angioedema: How does it Feel?
The swelling feels like large, firm welts; it causes warmth in the swollen areas, redness and may be painful. If angioedema occurs in the intestines, it can bring stomach pain. When it happens in the throat, breathing may be difficult, so call an emergency line at once.
As we mentioned before, angioedema is a group of swelling disorders. Swelling events are classified in chronic, or recurring over the long term and acute, a sudden, sporadic event due to a specific trigger.
On the one hand, chronic swellings are subdivided into idiopathic angioedema, hereditary angioedema and acquired angioedema. On the other hand, acute swellings are subdivided into non-allergic angioedema (or NAE) and allergic angioedema.
Angioedema is caused by “triggers”. The main causes of angioedema include:
- Allergic reaction
- Opioids, NSAIDs and other drugs
- Blood transfusion
Acute swellings, NAE is a reaction to some substances. Usually these substances are prescribed to lower blood pressure and promote cardiovascular health.
In the case of allergic angioedema, it may be a reaction to common triggers, like foods:
Other common causes are:
- Insect stings or bites
- Latex (a component of gloves, catheters, balloons and condoms)
- Vaccines (some contain triggering substances)
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and
- Sulfa drugs
If you have been diagnosed with angioedema, the best option is to avoid these triggers to prevent the swelling episodes. In the case of chronic angioedema, it is also advisable to avoid triggers, but this may be more difficult, since stress, pain, injury, infection and medical procedures may be causing the swelling.
Who is more susceptible to get Angioedema?
Some people have more chances of angioedema, which include those who have:
- Hives, allergic reactions
- Lupus, lymphoma. thyroid disease, hepatitis, HIV, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, a blood transfusion
- Asthma and take NSAIDs
- Family history of hives and angioedema
The first thing you should do is visit your doctor. When you visit a professional, you will be assessed and will possibly be prescribed preventative medications to make living with angioedema easier. A doctor may require a blood test to get more details.
This disorder may be painful and life-threatening (for example, swellings in the throat may block the airway and cause difficulty to breath) in some situations, so follow your treatment as prescribed by your doctor.
As for allergic angioedema, you may be prescribed antihistamines, corticosteroids, and epinephrine (EpiPen). This condition may also be treated with other medications aimed at treating the immune disorders that cause it, such as Rituxan, a lymphoma treatment.
In the case of hereditary angioedema and allergic angioedema, they may be prevented or stopped with C1-Inhibitor boosting drugs (Haergarda, Cinryze, and Kalbitor); medical cannabis may also be used for its anti-inflammatory properties.
For non allergic angioedema, idiopathic angioedema, allergic angioedema, and hereditary angioedema, Firazyr works similarly to an EpiPen.
In the case of chronic stress, long-term inflammation may occur. This is not a good sign, since stress is very unhealthy and increases the risks of heart disease and diabetes.
In any case, you should always make a plan should any event of angioedema occur, especially if you are travelling. For instance, you should always make a plan to contact medical services in case of a severe episode; everyone in your family should look up hospitals nearby and make arrangements on how to proceed in the case of an angioedema attack.
Angioedema: How to Live with it
As we mentioned before, the only life-threatening cases of angioedema are the ones that occur in the throat and intestines. Angioedema is treatable and usually goes away on its own. The best prevention is keeping yourself in good health, both physically and mentally, avoiding potential triggers.
Angioedema attacks may be traumatic, you may feel embarrassed and upset. If you have been feeling emotionally disturbed by these unpredictable swelling episodes, we recommend you talk to a friend, family member, or visit a therapy group or professional. Angioedema may cause anxiety, and asking for help is vital for your recovery.
Angioedema: Preventing Inflammation
All forms of angioedema are caused by inflammation, which causes fluid to flow into the deeper layers of the skin. This is a natural process of the immune system, but it can affect many aspects of a person’s overall health. Your doctor may suggest you take antihistamines everyday, instead of occasionally.
Avoiding triggers is a great help, but you should also consider keeping a diary to track foods, symptoms and situations that may be triggering the episodes.
Angioedema: Diet to Reduce Inflammation
Eating a balanced and nutritious diet helps reduce inflammation to healthier levels. You will not only feel better, but you will also relieve the symptoms of angioedema.
To reduce inflammation you should consider acquiring some positive lifestyle habits, including a healthy diet, which can reduce inflammation.
Diet Tips for Angioedema
First, identify what triggers the swelling. In this case a test may be performed by a doctor. You should also work on your diary to learn your body’s response to what you eat.
Avoid exposing yourself to pre-prepared food or food you do not know what contains.
Examine carefully the chemicals in the products you use, like soaps, detergents, or body products that may contain an allergen triggering the angioedema attack.
Angioedema: Relieve the Discomfort
In this section, we present you some tips to try at home if you are experiencing pain or burning due to the swelling. They do not cure the condition if it is hereditary or prevent it, but they may provide relief for episodes of angioedema:
- Use ice packs, apply them on the swollen area
- Have a cold bath, although it should not last more than a few minutes
- Have a milk bath, it is a popular soothing treatment for your skin
- Take vitamins: research suggests vitamin D deficiency may contribute to angioedema
- Try oatmeal treatments: they may reduce rash and itchiness
Angioedema: Over-the-Counter Options
There are a few over-the-counter therapies for mild attacks. Always consult your doctor, and use the medication according to the package instructions. If the symptoms are not alleviated or you feel worse, or have trouble breathing, get medical attention immediately.
- Oral antihistamines: diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine, and cetirizine (Zyrtec). These suppress your overactive immune system
- Antihistamine Creams: they reduce itching and rash
- Steroid creams: OTC steroid creams reduce rash and itchiness and may reduce some of the swelling
- Hypoallergenic creams: they may relieve the symptoms
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