Angioedema is swelling that happens just below the surface of the skin, most often around the lips and eyes. When you have an allergic reaction, your body produces histamine, which causes blood vessels to swell. Angioedema is like hives, but with hives there are itchy red welts on the surface of your skin. Angioedema is a deeper swelling.

Both hives and angioedema are usually caused by an allergic reaction to either a food or medication. Things like pollen or insect stings can also cause angioedema. In rare cases, it may be a sign of an underlying condition, such as leukemia or Hodgkin’s disease. There are two basic types of angioedema:

  • Hereditary angioedema (HAE), a rare genetic condition
  • Acquired angioedema (AAE)

Angioedema can take anywhere from minutes to hours to develop. It may affect just one side of the body. In most cases, angioedema is mild. Severe angioedema can cause the throat or tongue to swell, cutting off the airway, and it can be life threatening.


Common symptoms of angioedema include:

  • Red welts that suddenly appear, especially near the eyes and lips, but also on the hands, feet, and the inside of the throat.
  • Burning, painful, swollen, sometimes itchy areas.
  • Discolored patches or rash on the hands, feet, face, or genitals.
  • More rarely, hoarseness, a tight or swollen throat, or trouble breathing.
  • In a form called angioedema-eosinophilia syndrome, hives, itching, fever, muscle pain, decreased urine, weight gain, and high white blood cell count occur.


Sometimes the cause is unknown. Angioedema may be caused by allergies to foods, dyes, or pollen, or certain medications. Foods that often cause allergies include:

  • Shellfish
  • Dairy
  • Nuts

Medications that often spark allergic reactions include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or Advil
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Aspirin
  • Antibiotics

Other conditions that may trigger angioedema include:

  • Leukemia
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Connective tissue disorders such as lupus
  • Infections
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Stress


Factors that increase the risk for angioedema include:

  • Having hives or angioedema before
  • Having a body-wide allergic reaction in the past
  • Experiencing injury
  • Sudden temperature changes
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Undergoing a dental procedure
  • Having ovarian cysts

Also, women are affected by angioedema more often than men.


Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications (prescription and over-the-counter), as well as herbs and supplements you are taking. Blood and urine tests may help pinpoint the cause of the angioedema.

Treatment Options 


You should get rid of any known or suspected triggers for allergies. Allergy testing with a trained specialist may help identify what you’re allergic to. If you often have angioedema, you should wear a Medic Alert bracelet.

Treatment Plan

If you have mild angioedema, you may be able to treat it with over-the-counter antihistamines or alternative therapies. With severe angioedema, the first priority is to ensure that the person’s airway is open and they can breathe. The next steps include finding and removing the allergen, as well as relieving other symptoms. You can manage infrequent attacks as they happen. Frequent attacks may require ongoing treatment, perhaps with an dermatologist, or other specialist.

Drug Therapies

Several medicines may help prevent or relieve attacks. For mild cases, you can use over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Allegra, or Claritin. Note that Benadryl often causes drowsiness.

Your doctor may prescribe antihistamines. Mild attacks tend to clear up within 4 days with or without medication. For severe cases, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce swelling and itching, or you may need a shot of epinephrine (EpiPen).

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

In a severe attack, you should seek emergency help right away. DO NOT take any new drugs, herbs, or supplements during an attack.

Following a good nutritional plan and using herbs in between attacks may help reduce or prevent angioedema. Herbs and supplements may help reduce mild symptoms, especially if you often have angioedema. Find a health care practitioner who is experienced at prescribing herbs and supplements so you can find the right ones for you. It is important to tell your doctor about all medications, herbs, and supplements you are taking.

Nutrition and Supplements

Some foods may trigger angioedema in people who are allergic. You should eliminate any foods or food additives that trigger symptoms. The following are the most common food triggers:

  • Seafood
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Eggs
  • Chocolate
  • Milk
  • Berries

Some people may have a reaction in response to:

  • Citrus fruits.
  • Used as an antioxidant or preservative in many foods and beverages.
  • Yellow dye No. 5(also called tartrazine). Those who are allergic to aspirin or other NSAIDs are more likely to have an allergy to yellow dye No. 5.

Your doctor can help identify food triggers by:

  • Getting detailed information about your diet.
  • Doing skin tests for allergies.
  • Testing suspected triggers.
  • Watching symptoms as foods are eliminated from your diet, then slowly re-introduced one at a time.

If you have stomach symptoms, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or reduced appetite, you may want to try a diet that eliminates common food triggers even if you don’t have a specific food allergy.


If angioedema affects the throat, it can block the airway, which could be life-threatening. In rare cases, angioedema may develop into anaphylaxis, which requires emergency medical care to maintain breathing, blood pressure, and heart function, and to reverse the reaction.


After an attack, it’s important to identify and avoid any triggers and to treat any underlying condition. 


If you experience Angioedema seek immediately medical assistance. Our staff at the AllergyCorp Group develop personalized treatment plans for individuals with all types of angioedema. We have access to the latest treatments and testing. We see adult and pediatric patients (5 yrs and older). Call AllergyCorp Group today at 910-399-2882 for Wilmington or 910-207-6520 for Whiteville clinic for more info.