If you’ve been following my social media accounts for a while now, or you know me personally, you are probably aware that I have something called, angioedema. It’s not super common, and can definitely interfere with my life. here is an update!
Angioedema is a swelling of the lower dermis. It occurs very quickly, and resembles hives. The difference between hives and angioedema is that hives are on the upper levels of the dermis. They are usually a response to an external allergy or pathogen. Angioedema takes place in the lower dermis, and it can be hereditary, due to an allergy or unknown.
I started suffering (that I know of) from angioedema when I was in 8th grade during the spring time. Initially my parents and I were completely bewildered as to the cause. We thought it was a food allergy so I kept a very specific food journal for WEEKS. Literally documenting everything I ate (not unlike I do now……but for different reasons!) I would get swelling usually in my eyes or lips. Sometimes so badly that my eye would be swollen shut! There were days I had to stay home, I remember specifically that I missed the field trip to a chocolate factory because my lip swelled up! Finally we had bloodwork done (my skin is WAY too sensitive to do scratch tests….it will basically say I’m allergic to everything even if I am not.) We discovered that I am allergic (off the charts!) to all grass, and then at the time I was also shown to be allergic to milk and peanuts. We assumed this was the cause of the swelling.
I began taking allergy meds frequently to combat the grass allergies, and cut out milk and peanuts. Eventually after about 6 years I reintroduced milk and peanuts into my diet and I am fine! But my grass allergies are the same as they were before…off the charts. I thankfully hadn’t really had any swelling episodes in a long time, until January of 2014. I made a lamb roast for dinner for the first time ever, and after dinner my eye swelled. This was the beginning of several months with random swellings on my eyes and lips. After food journaling, cutting things out of my diet, allergy meds galore, I went to an allergy specialist.
They again did bloodwork, but showed that no external allergies were causing this reaction. They pulled a further bloodwork panel testing for more serious conditions like lymphoma, thyroid issues, leukemia etc. All autoimmune issues. My tests came back negative for everything. They essentially told me that they cannot pinpoint what the cause is. I was prescribed an epi-pen for an emergency if my throat were to swell. I went on my way!
Fast forward to this past month, and I randomly started having swellings again. Also in my eyes and lips, and in one most recent case- my eyeball! I of course get doped up on anti-inflammatories and allergy meds, and things return to normal. This most recent episode has had me thinking…..maybe they couldn’t pinpoint the cause because the cause is stress? In general, I am a high stress individual. I am type A and I love to plan ahead. The past month has been incredibly stressful, and I know it took it’s toll on me physically. I was thinking back to the last season of swellings, and it was also during a very stressful time. There were major management changes, and my workload dramatically increased. I was stressed in picking up the pieces of management changes, the beginning of a new calendar year (which is a big deal in fundraising,) and just had a LOT going on. This is all quite similar to this last season I have been having.
Angioedema is an autoimmune response, and seeing as my blood panel showed no typical causes, I can’t help but wonder if it is my body’s autoimmune response to extreme levels of stress? I’m not sure that I will ever truly find out, beyond just over the years tracking it. But it will definitely be something I pay closer attention to when the swellings occur. I have been learning lately that I need to work intentionally on relieving stress. I don’t have any real solution, but have been working on a few small things that have helped. One great example is that instead of listening to the top 40 radio stations while driving, I put on a jazz playlist or classical music. It is so much more smoothing! While I love the top 40 music for my workouts, I think it’s too high intensity for me while driving to and from work/the gym. I have started keeping my overhead light off in my office and ordered myself a small lamp instead. I have also reintroduced morning and evening stretches (though not frequently enough) back into my routine. Hopefully even these small changes will continue to relieve my stress!