September 4, 2019
Embrace the Epinephrine Injector
An epinephrine auto-injector is your life-saving, never-leave-home-without-it best friend.
Whether you have a child with severe allergies or are in danger of an anaphylactic reaction yourself, you should carry two epinephrine auto-injectors at all times. That way you have the tools you need to combat a serious reaction before you even make it to the hospital. (EpiPen has the most name recognition because it has been around since 1989, but other brands and generic versions are on the market now.)
Many people look an epinephrine auto-injector with fear and dread. They hesitate to use it and question whether an allergic reaction is serious enough to warrant it. First and foremost, in a healthy individual it is unlikely to have any dangerous side effects if epinephrine is injected properly. Your body naturally makes adrenaline which is the same thing as the epinephrine contained in an epinephrine auto-injector. It is safer to use the epinephrine autoinjector—whether you truly need it or not‚ than waiting too long which can lead to dire consequences.
Anaphylaxis symptoms vary tremendously, so there’s no one-size-fits-all description. Symptoms typically develop very soon after allergen exposure but can lag a half hour or more behind. Signs include:
- Hives, itching
- Flushed or pale skin
- Swollen tongue, throat, or lips
- Trouble swallowing, throat tightness
- Weak pulse
- Coughing, wheezing
- Chest tightness
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or cramps
- Dizziness, fainting, confusion, or weakness
- Low blood pressure
- Sense of “doom”
Experiencing symptoms in two body systems such as wheezing and vomiting indicates a potential anaphylactic reaction. If you sense that a severe reaction has begun, it’s best to use the self-injector and then seek emergency medical treatment. If you wait too long, it can be harder to stop the progression of the reaction. Don’t count on antihistamines like Benadryl or Zyrtec to halt a severe reaction since that’s not their intended purpose.
It’s imperative that you consult with an allergist to discuss your anaphylaxis action plan. Make sure you are familiar and comfortable with your epinephrine auto-injector administration instructions. Set a reminder on your phone to refresh your memory every few months. Our brains are pulled in so many directions that it’s easy to get rusty, but this is so important since it is such a high-stress, high-stakes situation. Manufacturers provide a training pen that contains no needle or medicine, so you can practice with a pretend version.
The various injector brands generally have similar instructions, but be sure to check your specific pen’s directions for use. In most cases, you’ll take the injector out of its tube and remove the safety cap. Ensure you are holding the correct end and firmly stick the needle into the thigh and hold it there for several seconds so that all of the medicine comes out. The pen will even work through clothing. Immediately seek emergency medical attention after administering the injector. Some people have a secondary reaction even after symptoms completely resolve, so do not skip this step!
Epinephrine injectors do their job quickly and effectively. Be confident that with one simple injection, you can stop a serious reaction in its tracks.