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Open Access Publications from the University of California

When the Red Tide Rolls In: A Red Tide Associated Angioedema Case Report


Introduction: Histamine-mediated angioedema is a potentially life-threatening reaction following exposures that incite mast cell activation. In Florida, red tides are a frequent phenomenon caused by overgrowth of the harmful algae species Karenia brevis, which contain environmentally detrimental brevetoxins. Even in low concentrations, brevetoxins can cause disease in humans through inducing histamine release. We report the first documented case of angioedema associated with red tide exposure.

Case Report: A 52-year-old-male presented with severe angioedema encompassing both lips within a few hours after exposure to red tide algae. Other symptoms included voice changes and difficulty swallowing. Laboratory findings revealed complement factors that were within reference range, which ruled out a bradykinin-mediated pathology and supported the diagnosis of histaminergic angioedema. Symptoms resolved after 24 hours in the intensive care unit under management with epinephrine, diphenhydramine, methylprednisolone, and famotidine.

Conclusion: In coastal regions, red tide algae should be recognized as a rare cause of acute angioedema. Emergency management of histamine-mediated angioedema should focus on preventing respiratory compromise with frequent airway monitoring and treatment with steroids, antihistamines, and epinephrine.

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