An EpiPen is an epinephrine auto-injector. It’s widely used as an emergency treatment for anaphylaxis, which occurs with severe allergic reactions. Much like “Kleenex” or “Q-Tip”, EpiPen is the brand name for the device, and it has become the main choice for epinephrine injectors.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is life-threatening as it triggers the release of several chemicals from the immune system, which sends the body into shock. As a result, blood pressure plummets, and the airways become constricted and can ultimately obstruct breathing. When someone is experiencing anaphylaxis, they may have a fast, weak heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, and/or a rash on the skin.
When someone with severe allergies is in contact with an allergen, the allergic reaction typically occurs very rapidly. The most severe reactions occur within minutes or even seconds of exposure; the most common reaction occurs within 30 to 60 minutes after exposure. The most common triggers of anaphylaxis include foods, medications, latex, and snake venom.
EpiPen For Anaphylaxis
The onset of anaphylaxis doesn’t necessarily provide enough time for patients to get to the emergency room. Therefore, it can be used to stop anaphylaxis as soon as the allergic reaction begins, wherever the patient may be. The sooner you administer the injection after experiencing anaphylaxis symptoms, the better, given that severe allergic reactions can quickly escalate.
With that being said, it does not replace seeking emergency medical care after a severe allergic reaction. It is strongly advised that you head to the ER, urgent care, or another medical facility after administering an EpiPen injection.
How Does Epinephrine Work?
Epinephrine, the medication inside of an EpiPen, works to treat anaphylaxis by increasing circulation throughout the body and opening the airways. It does this by constricting the blood vessels and relaxing the muscles around the airways.
How To Use An EpiPen
EpiPens are pre-filled, disposable injectors containing epinephrine. To use the device for anaphylaxis, first hold it with the orange tip pointing down, remove the blue safety cap by pulling (not bending or twisting) it directly upward. Next, you must locate the large muscle in the thigh and hold the orange part of the EpiPen directly against the thigh. At this point, you will hear a click and continue to hold the EpiPen against the thigh for 10 seconds.
If necessary, you can inject a second dose of EpiPen at least 5 to 15 minutes after the first injection, if symptoms don’t improve (or get worse).