by ana theresa williams,bsn,rn
I hardly forget the allergy attack I had when I judged the annual beauty contest in one of the hospitals in this city. After being exposed to smoke on stage which was graciously used by performers to have an amazing effect before the crowd, I wasn’t enjoying anymore the event since my eyelids started to swell and my hands and legs started to become itchy leading to acute angioedema and acute urticaria, respectively. All I wanted to do was just quickly disappear from that evening show among doctors.
However, one of my doctor friends requested me still to go up on stage to present the winners. Since then, I told the event organizer that I wasn’t interested anymore to judge similar beauty pageants that will just stimulate my allergies to react. It seems that I was gradually turning into a “monster,” and it was quite a horrible experience.
So why angioedema and urticaria occur?
Also known as hives, urticaria is a skin reaction that causes raised, red, itchy welts or wheals in sizes ranging from small spots to large blotches several inches in diameter. Individual welts appear and fade as the reaction runs its course.
On the other hand, angioedema is a related type of swelling that affects deeper layers in your skin, often around your eyes and lips.
In most cases, hives and angioedema are harmless and don’t leave any lasting marks, even without treatment. Like in my case, acute urticaria and acute angioedema don’t last more than a day. The most common treatment for hives and angioedema are prescribed antihistamine medications.
However, angioedema can be life-threatening if swelling causes your throat or tongue to block your airway and leads to loss of consciousness.
Start seeing your immunologist or allergist or skin dermatologist if your hives or angioedema doesn’t respond to treatment, you have severe discomfort and your symptoms continue for more than a few days. Then, seek emergency care if you feel lightheaded, you have severe chest tightness or trouble breathing and you feel your throat is swelling.
Urticaria and angioedema are caused by triggers that produce a skin or tissue reaction by stimulating certain cells or mast cells to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream.
Sometimes it’s not possible to pinpoint the cause of hives and angioedema, especially when these conditions become chronic or recur. Allergic reactions are one common trigger of acute hives and angioedema. Common allergens include foods such as shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and milk; almost any medication may cause hives or angioedema such as antibiotics (penicillin), aspirin, painkillers, NSAID or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and blood pressure medications; other substances such as pollen, animal dander, latex and insect stings; environmental factors that can stimulate release of histamine include heat, cold, sunlight, water, pressure on the skin, emotional stress and exercise; and dermatographia or dermographia where it literally means “skin writing” by stroking or scratching the skin that results in raised red lines in the same pattern as the pressure.
To lower your likelihood of experiencing hives or angioedema, start avoiding known triggers from foods or medications or situations such as extreme temperature or any substances that have triggered past allergic attacks. You can also keep a food diary that causes your skin allergy problem. But be aware that some foods may contain ingredients that are listed by less common names on the label.
HEALTHWATCHING: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11