Angioedema treatment

While the term ‘angioneurotic edema’ sounds really scary, it is actually a fairly common condition. More commonly called angioedema now, it is not a disease in itself but a symptom. Most often it occurs due to allergies but there is also a related form of angioneurotic edema that is hereditary, usually due to a genetic defect. Basically angioedema is swelling that occurs under the skin, rather than on the surface like hives. Typically it is worst around the eyes and mouth, but may appear in the extremities or genitals, as well.

There are occasions where the angioedema can be severe or affect the tongue, throat or lungs, thus hindering respiration. This is often the case during anaphylactic shock due to a severe allergy and can be life threatening. With cases like that, the person needs immediate medical attention. People known to have this type of severe reaction will normally need to carry an epipen with them for fast treatment when exposed to a trigger.

The most common type of angioneurotic edema is caused by allergic contact. This type generally goes away within a day but acute versions may last up to six weeks in rare cases. The most common triggers for this reaction would be food, medications, latex or insect bites. In certain cases, an underlying disease or infection may cause the reaction but this is less common.

The symptoms during angioedema are very similar to hives, but deeper, below the surface. Large, firm welts become apparent but are generally not itchy like hives or at least not as severely itchy. Swelling of the skin, commonly around the mouth and eyes but elsewhere is possible. The areas affected may be painful or warm to the touch but this symptom is not always present. When there is severe swelling, blisters may form rather than large welts.

A much rarer form of angioneurotic edema is the hereditary condition but when it occurs it tends to have much more sudden and severe effects. This genetic disorder is not usually triggered by an allergen and in fact, usually the trigger cannot be identified. With this type of angioedema, the swelling is more severe and can be anywhere on the face, legs, feet, arms, hands, genitals and along the respiratory or digestive tracts. If the digestive tract is affected, abdominal pain is common while swelling along the respiratory tract can obstruct breathing.

With the milder forms of angioedema, you can usually treat the symptoms yourself at home using over-the-counter antihistamines and topical steroidal creams such as hydrocortisone. If the cause is known to be an allergy, avoidance of the allergen is the best course of action. For allergies that cannot be totally avoided, like dust or pollen, a regular allergy medication may be advisable depending on how often you experience angioedema and how uncomfortable the symptoms are for you.

The over-the-counter treatments will not be effective for the more serious genetic form of angioneurotic edema, however. There are prescription medications that can be used that help reduce the incidence and severity of attacks. Certain androgen medications have shown to be helpful in maintaining blood protein levels which helps, although the complete explanation of why it works is still unknown.

Obviously if you experience the hereditary form of this condition, you will need to consult with your doctor on the best course of treatment. For the milder versions, avoid triggers if you know what they are, treat with oral antihistamines and topical corticosteroids as necessary and wait for it to pass. If you have frequent symptoms, you may want to arrange for allergy testing to identify triggers.

Last updated on Feb 4th, 2010 and filed under Immune System. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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