Angioedema is a nonpitting edema of which the presentation ranges from benign facial swelling to airway obstruction managed by intubation or tracheotomy. The presentation of this disease is reviewed, and a treatment algorithm based on initial signs and symptoms is proposed for proper airway management. We performed a retrospective review of 108 patients treated in 2 tertiary care centers in the Washington, DC, area over a 5-year period. Ninety-eight patients (90.7%) were African-American, and 81 (75%) were female. Seventy-four patients (68.5%) were taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs). A classification system was developed based on the location of the edema at initial presentation: 1) isolated facial swelling and oral cavity edema, excluding the floor of the mouth; 2) floor of mouth and/or oropharyngeal edema, and 3) oropharyngeal edema with glottic and/or supraglottic involvement. Fourteen patients (13%) needed airway intervention, 2 of whom underwent a cricothyrotomy after a failed intubation attempt. Eleven (78.6%) were taking ACEIs. The indication for each intubation was massive tongue and floor of mouth edema. The patients were extubated 48 to 72 hours later. No patient demonstrated symptom progression after medical treatment was initiated. Therapy included discontinuation of the ACEI or other inciting agent, a high-humidity face tent, an initial dose of intravenous antihistamines, and a continued course of intravenous steroids. Within 48 hours, most patients had a resolution of their edema. Only cases of significant tongue and oropharyngeal edema took longer than 48 hours to resolve. The ACEIs are a common cause of angioedema. Left untreated, angioedema may progress to involve the oropharynx and supraglottis, resulting in a life-threatening airway compromise. Marked floor of mouth and tongue edema are the indications for airway intervention. An algorithm based on the initial presentation is essential for proper airway and patient management. Once treatment has begun, angioedema is nonprogressive and often resolves within 24 to 48 hours.
- Airway obstruction
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
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