Understanding Angioedema – All You Need to Know About Giant Hives

Understanding Angioedema – All You Need to Know About Giant Hives

Angioedema: The Science Behind Giant Hives

When someone mentions ‘hives,’ the image that generally pops up in most people’s minds is of small, itchy red bumps that appear on the skin. However, angioedema is not your everyday hives as we know them.

Both hives and angioedema are usually caused by an allergic reaction to medication, or food. Other substances that may trigger this disorder include pet dander, pollen and insect bites. The symptom, in extremely rare cases, may indicate health conditions such as Hodgkin’s disease. Some of the body regions such as the limbs and face are more prone to swelling than others.

Hereditary angioedema occurs when the disorder is transmitted from parent to offspring via the genes. Hereditary angioedema has a number of symptoms, causes, complications and treatments. 

Angioedema is generally not a serious medical condition and does not leave any lasting marks. In most cases, it goes away on its own, even in the absence of treatment.

Quick Facts about Angioedema

What: Severe swelling beneath the skin, often referred to as “giant hives.”

Link with Allergies: Angioedema can be triggered by allergens such as pollen, insect bites, and certain foods.

Potential Severity: In extreme cases, angioedema can cause difficulty breathing or even anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Importance of Awareness: Recognizing the symptoms and causes of angioedema can lead to faster diagnosis and treatment.

What is Angioedema?

Angioedema is a term that describes severe swelling under the skin’s surface. In some cases, this swelling occurs alongside the appearance of hives. This is the reason why the disorder is usually referred to as giant hives. Hives are welts that develop on the surface of the skin. They are red and itchy.

Giant Hives and Angioedema: Unraveling the Connection

When someone mentions ‘hives,’ the image that generally pops up in most people’s minds is of small, itchy red bumps that appear on the skin. However, when these hives are supersized, they take on a whole new level of concern. Enter “Giant Hives,” a colloquial term often used to describe what medical professionals refer to as ‘angioedema.’

Why "Giant Hives"?

The reason behind this informal moniker is pretty straightforward. 

Angioedema appears as larger, more pronounced welts that are deeper than the typical hives you might get from, say, a mosquito bite. 

They’re so prominent that they’ve earned the name “Giant Hives.”

Cellular Mechanism of Allergic Reaction Leading to Angioedema

Allergen Binds to IgE Antibiodies on Mast Cells
Mast Cell Degranulation
Histamine Acts on Blood Vessels
Vascular Permeability Increases
Angioedema Swelling Beneath the Skin

Angioedema can be caused by the release of histamine and other chemical mediators from Mast cells in the skin leading to increased fluid accumulation and swelling

The Allergic Link

Much like their smaller counterparts, Giant Hives or angioedema is typically a manifestation of an allergic reaction. The body’s immune system, when confronted with an allergen – whether it’s pollen, certain foods, or medication – releases histamine.

This chemical, in turn, causes the blood vessels to expand, leading to swelling, commonly beneath the skin, resulting in the appearance of these pronounced welts or Giant Hives.

Beyond the Surface

While the term “Giant Hives” might make you think it’s just an enlarged version of regular hives, angioedema delves deeper – quite literally. 

While hives affect the surface of the skin, angioedema is swelling that occurs beneath the skin, especially around soft tissues such as the eyes and lips. 

This is why it’s crucial not to take the term ‘Giant Hives’ lightly; angioedema can be much more severe, especially if it impacts the throat and interferes with breathing.

What are the Symptoms of Angioedema?

Angioedema is most commonly identified by swelling beneath the skin’s surface. It may occur on the hands, feet, lips and eyes. In extreme cases, the swelling may spread to other regions of the body. This disorder may be accompanied by welts and swelling on the skin’s surface.

Other symptoms of the disorder include cramping of the stomach, and discolored rash or patches on the feet, arms and hands. In very rare cases, people suffering from angioedema may experience hoarseness, a swollen throat, and difficulty in breathing.

If you experience difficulty breathing, or a loved one does, do not hesitate to call 911 or go to an emergency room right away. This may indicate a grave medical condition requiring immediate medical attention.

Are You at Risk for Angioedema?

Take our Interactive Quiz to find out!

Have you ever had an allergic reaction to any of the following? (Select all that apply)

Do any of your family members have a history of hereditary angioedema or allergic reactions?

Have you ever experienced hives or unexplained swelling, especially around the hands, feet, lips, or eyes?

Have you ever been diagnosed with an illness or infection such as leukemia or lupus?

Do you often experience stomach cramping, discolored rashes, or patches on your limbs without any known cause?

Have you ever had difficulty breathing, hoarseness, or a swollen throat after coming in contact with potential allergens?

Causes of Angioedema

This disorder is caused by an allergic reaction. When a person has an allergic reaction, the body produces histamine, which causes the swelling of the blood vessels. The following allergies can trigger this disorder:

This disorder may also be caused by an illness or an infection, such as leukemia or lupus. Hereditary angioedema occurs in people whose family has a history of the diseases.

Risk Factors for Angioedema

Certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing this disorder. These include:

Diagnosis of Angioedema

Your physician will carry out a physical examination and inquire of your symptoms and medical history. 

In the course of your exam, he will examine your areas of welts and swelling, if any are present. Your breath will also be examined to see if the throat has been affected. If you have been exposed to allergens recently, then do well to inform your physician. 

This may help him or her to determine the exact cause of your reaction.

Your physician will perform a series of blood tests if he or she suspects hereditary angioedema. These tests include:

With these tests, the level of certain blood proteins can be determined. Low levels can indicate a health defect related to swelling and inflammation.

Angioedema: Understanding, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

What is Angioedema?



Treatment for Angioedema

People who have mild symptoms of the disorder may not need any treatment. However, people who have moderate or severe symptoms may require a number of medications to help relieve intense swelling and itching. These medicines include:

Some home remedies may also help to relieve these symptoms. These include:

Prognosis for Angioedema

In many cases, this disorder is a harmless condition that will vanish within a day to three days. 

However, it may be dangerous if the swelling occurs close to the throat. A swollen tongue or throat can block a person’s airway and make breathing very difficult. If the disorder is very severe, it may trigger anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. In such extreme cases, there will be a need for emergency treatment.

Preventing Angioedema

This disorder is best prevented by avoiding suspected and known allergens. You should also try not to irritate other regions of the body that have been previously affected. Adopting these preventive measures can help minimize your risk of developing another episode in the future.

Results: Are You at Risk for Angioedema?

Mostly Yes: You may have several risk factors for angioedema. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for a detailed assessment.

Mixed or Mostly No: While you might not exhibit all the common risk factors, always be vigilant and consult a healthcare professional if you observe any symptoms.

*Disclaimer: This quiz is not a diagnostic tool. Always consult with a medical professional regarding concerns or symptoms.

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