An epinephrine injection (EpiPen) is used to treat severe allergic reactions to insect stings or bites, foods, drugs, and other allergens. It works by narrowing the blood vessels and opening airways in the lungs.
An EpiPen auto-injector is a device that has a syringe and needle that can inject a single dose of epinephrine. It is a disposable single-use system.
Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis will usually display within minutes of exposure, but there can also be a delay of 30 minutes or more. Following the initial reaction, there can be an equally serious second reaction one to eight hours after.
Look out for any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Flushed or pale skin
- Other skin changes, such as hives, itching, or rash
- Swelling of the eyelids, and itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy or swollen tongue or throat
- The feeling of a lump forming in the throat
- Blocking of the airways, causing wheezing or trouble breathing
- Rapid or weak pulse
- Rapid heart rate
- Dizziness or fainting
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- A feeling of impending doom
If you believe the person is having a severe allergic reaction, using an epinephrine auto-injector would be appropriate. No harm will be caused to a person by providing a single injection if it turns out they are not having an allergic reaction.
First Aid for Anaphylaxis
Speed is essential with Anaphylaxis and you must act fast to give the person the EpiPen injection right away, before their symptoms worsen.
For safe use, be sure to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The injection will usually be done on the person’s outer thigh and may take about 10 seconds for the injection to complete. In an emergency it can be administered through the person’s clothing.
Make a note of what time you gave the injection.
The symptoms can return so it is important that you call for emergency medical assistance so that medical professionals can monitor the individual’s recovery.
If the person stops breathing or their heart stops, you need to perform CPR. Have the person lie down to prevent injury if they faint and fall.
Loosen tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket. Do not give them anything to drink.
Watch for vomiting or bleeding. Turning a person to their side may help to prevent choking.
In most cases, the person will feel the epinephrine working right away. They may also feel a rapid heartbeat and nervousness. Only administer a second injection if specifically told to do so by a doctor.
How to Use an EpiPen Auto Injector
- Form a fist around the auto-injector with the black tip pointing down and remove the safety cap.
- Place the black tip against the fleshy portion of the outer thigh. Do not put your thumb over the end of the unit. Hold the leg firmly when giving this injection to a child or infant.
- In one quick motion, push the auto-injector firmly against the thigh. This will release the spring-loaded needle that injects the dose of EpiPen.
- Place the used device needle-first into the carrying tube. Re-cap the tube and take it with you to the emergency room so that anyone who treats the person will know how much EpiPen they have received.
Never inject the EpiPen into a vein or into the muscles of your buttocks, or it may not work as well. Inject it only into the fleshy outer portion of the thigh.
Accidentally injecting EpiPen into your hands or feet may result in a loss of blood flow to those areas, and resulting numbness. If this occurs, seek emergency medical attention.
Common Side Effects
Common side effects of the EpiPen may include:
- Breathing problems
- Fast or pounding heartbeats
- Pale skin, sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness or tremors
- Throbbing headache
- Feeling nervous, anxious, or fearful