Allergens (substances that cause allergies) stimulate the body to release chemicals. These chemicals cause inflammation. If this inflammation causes the skin to swell, the condition is called angioedema (AN-gee-oh-eh-DEE-muh).
Allergic angioedema may be triggered by allergies to foods, drugs, latex, or insect stings. It also occurs in children with an infection or autoimmune disorders. Although it is rare, some children have a form of angioedema that is inherited. If your child has this form, the doctor will tell you more about the condition and how to manage it.
Angioedema occurs suddenly, within minutes to hours after exposure to an allergen. Swelling usually appears on the face, lips, mouth, throat, arms and legs, or genitals. The swelling is patchy and asymmetrical. The skin will be red. Hives may also develop. The areas are usually painful and warm, but not itchy. The swelling goes away in a day or two without leaving any marks. In some cases, angioedema can affect the bowels and cause colicky abdominal pain. The throat and airways in the lungs can also become swollen, causing difficulty breathing.
Mild symptoms go away on their own and do not require treatment. Moderate symptoms may be treated with antihistamines and corticosteroids to stop itching and swelling. Abdominal pain may be treated with pain medications. Severe symptoms, such as a swollen throat or trouble breathing, should be considered a medical emergency.
There are different types of angioedema. Your child's symptoms will depend on what type of angioedema he or she has. Swelling and redness with or without itching are the main symptoms. Other symptoms can include:
Rash, hives, redness, welts, blisters
Itching, burning, stinging, pain
Dry, flaky, cracking, scaly skin
Swelling of the face, lips or other parts of the body
More severe symptoms include:
Trouble swallowing, feeling like the throat is closing
Trouble breathing, wheezing
Hoarse voice or trouble speaking
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps
Feeling faint or lightheaded, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure
The causes of angioedema may be similar to causes of allergic reactions. The most common causes can include:
Foods, including shrimp, shellfish, peanuts, milk products, gluten, eggs; also colorings, flavorings, additives
Insect bites or stings from bees, mosquitos, flees, ticks
Medicines such as penicillin, sulfa drugs, amoxicillin, aspirin, ibuprofen; any medicine can cause a reaction
Latex in gloves, clothes, toys, balloons, or some tapes. Some people allergic to latex may have problems with foods like bananas, avocados, kiwi, papaya, or chestnuts
Heat, cold, sunlight
Medical conditions involving the immune system and certain infections
The healthcare provider may prescribe medications for itching, swelling, or pain. Follow the doctor’s instructions when giving these medications to your child.
Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine available at drug and grocery stores. Unless a prescription antihistamine was given, diphenhydramine may be used to reduce itching if large areas of the skin are involved. It may make your child sleepy. Do not use diphenhydramine cream on your child's skin, because it can cause a further reaction, and make your child allergic to diphenhydramine.
Unless another pain medicine was prescribed, you can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain.
Medicines may have been prescribed to prevent your child's symptoms from returning. Give these as directed.
If your child is known to be allergic to something, do your best to avoid it. If the doctor suspects that your child’s angioedema was caused by medication your child takes regularly, he or she will discuss this with you.
Keep a record of what you child may have eaten or been exposed to before the reaction. Note similar reactions in other family members.
Apply cool compresses to areas that are bothersome. This will help reduce any irritation and itching.
Have your child wear loose cotton clothing. This will feel cooler to the skin and absorb moisture.
Have your child take a cool shower or bath. Temperature extremes can trigger a reaction.
Monitor affected skin for signs of infection (see below).
Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed.
Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
Increasing or continuing swelling
Abdominal pain or diarrhea
Signs of skin infection such increasing redness, increasing pain, or foul-smelling drainage
Call 911 if any of these occur:
Trouble breathing or swallowing or wheezing
Hoarse voice or trouble speaking
Trouble awakening or severe drowsiness
Fainting or loss of consciousness
Rapid heart rate
Bloody vomit or large amounts of blood in stool