Angioedema is sudden swelling that is often caused by an allergic reaction. It can be very serious if your throat becomes swollen and your breathing is affected. Treatment can help keep the swelling under control.

Check if you have angioedema

Angioedema is where a part of the body suddenly becomes swollen.

You'll usually have a raised, itchy rash (hives) if an allergic reaction has caused the swelling.

Areas of the body commonly affected include:

  • the face – particularly the lips, tongue and eyelids
  • the hands or feet
  • the genitals

Sometimes the bowel may also become swollen, which can cause stomach pain.

Less commonly, the throat can swell up, leading to breathing difficulties. This is a medical emergency and immediate treatment is needed.

Call 999 if:

  • your lips, mouth, throat or tongue suddenly become swollen
  • you're breathing very fast or struggling to breathe (you may become very wheezy or feel like you're choking or gasping for air)
  • your throat feels tight or you're struggling to swallow
  • your skin, tongue or lips turn blue, grey or pale (if you have black or brown skin, this may be easier to see on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet)
  • you suddenly become very confused, drowsy or dizzy
  • someone faints and cannot be woken up
  • a child is limp, floppy or not responding like they normally do (their head may fall to the side, backwards or forwards, or they may find it difficult to lift their head or focus on your face)

You or the person who's unwell may also have a rash that's swollen, raised or itchy.

These can be signs of a serious allergic reaction and may need immediate treatment in hospital.

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • part of your body suddenly becomes swollen (such as your hands, feet or genitals)

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Treatments for angioedema

You may not need treatment for angioedema if the swelling is mild or it only affects a small area of your body.

If the swelling is severe or widespread, or if it affects your lips, tongue, or throat, you'll usually need emergency treatment in hospital.

Treatments for angioedema include:

  • identifying and avoiding the underlying cause – if a medicine is thought to be the cause, you may be given a different one to take instead
  • antihistamine medicine, such as cetirizine, fexofenadine or loratadine
  • steroid tablets, such as prednisolone

If you have a type of angioedema that keeps coming back (hereditary angioedema), you may also need medicine to stop this happening.

You may have regular reviews to check if your treatment is working.

If your symptoms do not improve or get worse, you may need to go back to hospital for further tests and treatment.

Types of angioedema

Cause: Angioedema caused by an allergic reaction to certain foods, medicines or substances. Type: Acute allergic angioedema.

Cause: A non-allergic reaction to a medicine, most commonly angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. Type: Non-allergic angioedema.

Cause: Long-term angiodema where the cause is unknown. Type: Idiopathic angioedema.

Cause: A rare and potentially life-threatening type of angioedema that's often inherited from your parents. Type: Hereditary angioedema.

Cause: A very rare type of angioedema that you can get if you have lymphoma (cancer), or a condition that affects the connective tissue, such as lupus. Type: Acquired angioedema.

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 02/05/2024 10:10:20