An EpiPen is an epinephrine auto-injector for emergency treatment of severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis. It’s important to know how to use an EpiPen before you ever need it. An epinephrine injection is your first line of defense against a severe allergic reaction because the quicker you treat it, the less intense it’s likely to become. When left untreated, however, a severe allergic reaction can become fatal. And remember, using an EpiPen does not replace seeing a health care provider or going to the hospital.
“A single-dose auto-injector or EpiPen is a lifesaving drug that treats the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction,” says Brian Kelly, an emergency medical technician with Atlantic Health System. “The NJ Department of Health’s allergy guidelines recommend administering epinephrine at the very first sign of anaphylaxis — or even if it is strongly suspected.”
How to Administer Medication — Press, Click, Hold
Someone with known allergies or a history of anaphylaxis should carry a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector at all times. If an emergency arises, administer the injection and have someone call 9-1-1 immediately so you can be taken to the nearest emergency department by ambulance. Here’s a step-by-step guide to proper use.
- Take the pen out of the carrier tube and remove the cap.
- Grip the tube in your fist with the orange end facing downward. (Remember, blue to the sky, orange to the thigh)
- Remove the blue safety cap with your free hand, pull it straight off, do not twist it.
- Give the shot through clothing or directly into the skin.
- Firmly press the orange end into the outer thigh until it clicks.
- Hold it in place at a 90-degree angle for 3 seconds, counting slowly.
- Pull the pen straight out of the leg.
- Make note of the time you administered the medication and pass this information along to the medical team.
“You should always carry your pen with you,” says John Oppenheimer, MD, an allergy specialist at Atlantic Health System who explains how to administer the shot. “The pen is designed to go through jeans or khakis, and the medicine takes root quickly. Holding it in for three seconds is all you need to begin to feel the effects of the medication.”
Signs of a Severe Allergy
When the immune system is triggered by allergens, the body reacts. Unfortunately, symptoms are not always obvious or immediate. Kelly says, “If you suspect a severe allergic reaction is occurring, even if you’re in doubt, give the shot. Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the harder it is to stop the reaction from progressing.”
Symptoms of anaphylaxis:
- Swelling of the throat
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Belly Pain
- Chest tightness
- Low heart rate and blood pressure
- Severe hives or rash
- Itchy, swollen eyes or tongue
How Epinephrine Works
An epinephrine shot has the power to alleviate symptoms almost immediately. The medication should be self-administered or delivered by a trained EMT, medical professional or caregiver—although anyone who is capable and on-site can administer an EpiPen in a life-threatening situation.
“An EpiPen can save a life,” says Kelly, who explains that if symptoms continue, recur, or EMS is delayed in arriving, a second dose is acceptable. He also notes that adult and child dosages are different, and temporary side effects may occur such as shakiness, dizziness or headache.
Once the health crisis has been resolved, the patient should follow-up with their primary care doctor.
Be Proactive About Your Health
Stay up to date with your annual wellness exams and screenings to prevent and detect more serious issues.