Mucosal Edema: Types, Causes, Treatment

In this article, we will take a close look at mucosal edema, a medical condition characterized by the swelling of the mucous membranes. We will explore its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. We will also discuss the potential complications and the importance of proper management of this condition.
Jakub Gwiazdecki

Jakub Gwiazdecki

Fifth year medical student at the Medical Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava.

What is mucosal edema?

Mucosal edema is a medical condition characterized by the swelling of the mucous membranes, the lining membranes of the body’s cavities and of the organs. The edema, which is swelling, is caused by the accumulation of fluid in the tissues [1].

Mucosal edema can occur in different parts of the body. It can be found in various conditions in the digestive tract, respiratory tract, and nasal lining [1].

Many factors can trigger the swelling of the mucosal membranes. Edema can occur as a response to toxins, allergies, and inflammation [1].

Industrial goods, medications and mostly chemical substances are among the toxins that can lead to edema. However, the last type, the inflammatory swelling of the mucosa, occurs during infections [1].

Edema is one of the cardinal signs of inflammation. When it comes to mucosa, it can occur during a viral infection of the nose [1]. However, other organs can also be affected, like the stomach [2].

Mucosal edema can be potentially life-threatening. For example, severe cases of edema in the pharynx or larynx can lead to serious problems with breathing [3].

What is mucosal edema in the nose?

Mucosal edema in the nose refers to the swelling of the nasal mucosa. This swelling of the inner nasal lining can be caused by many factors such as allergic reactions, infections, or exposure to certain substances.

Allergic reactions in the nose cause the nasal mucosa to swell rapidly. The inflow of fluid into this layer is due to the released immunological mediators [4]. This swelling is known as middle turbinate edema. It is a characteristic feature of aeroallergen sensitization. The occurrence of this kind of nose edema indicates an allergic reaction to molecules found in the air, like dust or pollen [5, 6].

Interestingly, inflammation in the nasal mucosa can also lead to edema. It can be accompanied by symptoms of excessive tear production which occurs due to swelling around the nasolacrimal duct [7].

In cases of nasal mucosal edema caused by allergy, the swelling in different parts has different mechanisms. Not all swelling is caused by edema, and therefore it has to be differentiated [8].

The nasal septum swelling occurs because of the mechanism of edema creation. That is, it occurs as a response to immunological mediators. However, the inferior (lower) part of the nose is swollen because of the increased blood perfusion through this region, not because of oedematous processes [8].

Edema of the mucosa in the nose can also be a side effect of chemotherapy. It is a common adverse effect of cancer treatment to have mucositis [9].

In severe cases, chronic mucosal edema in the nose can lead to the formation of nasal polyps. Those painless, soft, and benign masses grow from the mucosa. When they increase in size, they can obstruct normal breathing through the nose [10].

What causes mucosal thickening in the maxillary sinus?

Mucosal thickening in the maxillary sinus can be caused by a variety of factors. A primary factor is inflammation of the mucosal layer in the sinus [11].

The thickening of the mucosa in the maxillary sinus can also be caused by teeth-related conditions. For example, inappropriate endodontic treatment, tooth extraction, extensive caries, or periapical lesions. All those conditions can be precursors to the inflammatory process in the maxillary sinus and the mucosal thickening in the maxillary sinus [12, 13].

In addition, face-bone-related conditions are also associated with maxillary mucosal thickening. Examples are alveolar bone loss, the minimal residual bone height in maxillary molars, and vertical intrabony pockets. These are conditions that have a strong correlation with maxillary mucosal thickening [14].

In addition, other dental conditions are predisposing factors for maxillary mucosal thickening. Increased risk for this condition comes from tooth fillings and crowns [15].

Mucosal edema treatment

Mucosal edema can occur in various conditions. It can come from allergies, lack of oral hygiene, chemotherapy, or inflammation. Having strategies for how to handle this condition can increase the quality of life.

An easy and cheap method of mucosal edema prevention is good oral hygiene. Regular tooth brushing is beneficial for a lot of conditions, as it limits the amount of flora in the mouth. Among the bacteria that are found in the oral cavity are also some opportunistic pathogens. Despite the fact that they are typically harmless, they may lead to inflammation when situated in the wrong part of the body [16].

In cases of chemotherapy, a great way of managing mucosal edema is cryotherapy. It involves cooling the mucosa during the infusion of the medication. This technique lowers the degree of mucositis in those receiving cancer treatment [9].

Another effective treatment used in cancer-caused mucositis is low-level laser therapy [17].

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Jakub Gwiazdecki

Jakub Gwiazdecki

Jakub is in his fifth year as a medical student at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. He has special interested in cardiology and in patient-centered medicine. His love for heart health isn't just book-smarts; he wants to know how it works, what it means for our feelings, and how key it is for health and happiness. Jakub thinks real good health care comes from always putting the patient at the centre, treating each person as a whole.