What is an EpiPen and Who Needs It?

If you are at risk for severe, life-threatening allergic reactions (also called anaphylaxis), then carrying an EpiPen– an auto-injector that can deliver a dose of the medication epinephrine– could save your life in an emergency. Let’s take a closer look at what an EpiPen is, why someone could need one, and who uses them.

What is an EpiPen?

Simply put, an EpiPen is a device that holds a cartridge filled with the medication epinephrine, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions. When pressed against the skin, it auto-injects the medication through a small needle at the end of the “pen.”

There are several different brands of EpiPen available, and the dose will depend on your unique needs. For example, children receive a different amount of medication than adults. Your doctor will prescribe the right EpiPen for you.

Who needs an EpiPen?

According to MedicAlert partner Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), as many as 1 in 50 Americans are at risk for experiencing anaphylaxis– and the number may even be as high as 1 in 20. This serious allergic reaction can be fatal if untreated.

People who have had a mild allergic reaction in the past, or have a known allergy to foods, insect bites, medications and other allergens are at risk for anaphylaxis.

During an anaphylactic reaction, swelling in the airway can make it impossible to breathe. This can happen in a matter of minutes, and epinephrine, the medication in an EpiPen, can stop this reaction.

Anyone at risk for this kind of allergic reaction should carry at least two EpiPens with them at all times. An EpiPen is the most effective way to treat and reverse anaphylaxis.

How does an EpiPen work?

An EpiPen device can be easily carried with you and should be within reach in case of an emergency. Your doctor or pharmacist can show you how to operate an EpiPen. It is pre-filled with epinephrine and is very easy to use.

There are three basic steps to using an EpiPen:

  1. Grasp the blue safety cap and remove it by pulling straight up while pointing the orange tip downward (do not twist or bend)
  2. Place the orange tip against the middle of the outer thigh and then swing and push the tip firmly against the thigh (even through clothing) until it clicks
  3. Hold firmly in place while counting to three: “1-2-3”

When the tip of the EpiPen is pressed against the thigh– even through clothing– the auto-injector delivers a dose of epinephrine to stop anaphylaxis within seconds. This medication works by:

  • Improving breathing by relaxing the muscles in your airway
  • Reversing the dangerous decrease in blood pressure that happens during anaphylaxis
  • Helping to relax muscles in the stomach, intestines, and bladder– organs affected by anaphylaxis

After administering the EpiPen, you should call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.

Does an EpiPen stop anaphylactic shock?

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection (FAACT), a MedicAlert partner, states that an EpiPen is the first medication that should be used to treat anaphylaxis. This is because it does stop anaphylactic shock, and gives a person time to get emergency medical care to prevent more symptoms.

After an EpiPen has been administered, FAACT recommends calling 911 or seeking immediate medical care. This is because additional medications may need to be given, like antihistamines, corticosteroids and inhalers. Monitoring should also take place to make sure the reaction has fully passed.

Does an EpiPen have any side effects?

Like any medication, an EpiPen does have possible side effects. These are usually temporary, but you should let your doctor know if you experience any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat or feeling like your heart is pounding
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Redness, swelling, pain, or warmth at the injection site
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety, or feeling restless or nervous
  • Shaking uncontrollably (can be one part of your body only)
  • Skin becoming pale
When is an EpiPen administered?

It is very important to know when to use an EpiPen. Because anaphylaxis can happen very quickly, an EpiPen should be used at the very first sign of a severe allergic reaction. The Cleveland Clinic describes these warning signs:

  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Belly pain
  • Swelling, which can include the throat and block swallowing and breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Rash or hives
  • A feeling of “impending doom”

Even if you’re not sure it’s an anaphylactic reaction, it’s recommended to err on the side of caution and use the EpiPen to reduce the risk of a serious reaction.

How do I get an EpiPen?

According to MedicAlert partner Kids with Food Allergies (KFA), if you think you may need an EpiPen, you’ll need to see your doctor for a prescription. They can review your risk for anaphylaxis and make sure your EpiPen dose is correct.

When you fill your prescription, which usually includes two auto-injectors per box, be sure to ask for a tutorial on how to use the EpiPen.

When should I bring an EpiPen with me?

Once you have filled your EpiPen prescription, you should always have it with you in case of an emergency. You can keep it in a purse, desk drawer at work, in an easy-to-grab spot at home, or anywhere else it is close by.

Be sure to follow these storage tips when keeping an EpiPen:

  • Store the medication in the plastic tube it came in
  • Keep out of reach of children
  • Store at room temperature- not in the refrigerator or your car
  • Keep away from light, excess heat, and moisture

You should also be careful to check the expiration dates on any EpiPens you have every few months. If your medication has expired, you should always replace it.

How can a MedicAlert ID and Protection Plan help protect someone that uses an EpiPen?

Wearing a highly recognizable medical ID like the ones available from MedicAlert can ensure that first responders know about your allergies and your need for an EpiPen in a medical emergency. If you are unable to communicate these details yourself, MedicAlert can be your voice, and even save your life.

Along with an ID of your choice, you have the option of a Medic Alert Protection Plan as an additional layer of protection if you should experience a severe allergic reaction. With a Protection Plan, you have access to benefits such as:

  • A robust digital health profile, containing all the critical details of your health history, allergies, medications, surgeries and more
  • A 24/7 Emergency Response Team that can share all your important information with first responders
  • Patient instructions that include details like your EpiPen use and your allergy treatment plan
  • Emergency contact notification so your loved ones can be with you quickly
  • Storage of your advance directives and DNR if applicable
  • A printable patient profile that you can use for doctor’s visits
  • An asthma action plan, detailing the use of rescue medications if your allergies trigger asthma attacks

MedicAlert has been a trusted partner in saving millions of lives in an emergency for more than 65 years, making a MedicAlert ID and Protection Plan a great choice if you use an EpiPen.

How do you order a MedicAlert ID for an EpiPen?

The easiest way to order a MedicAlert ID for yourself or a loved one who has one or more severe allergies is to go to the MedicAlert website and select your ID using the “Shop All Medical IDs.”

With the variety of ID types available, including bracelets, necklaces, cards, shoe tags, and more, you will easily find something that fits your style and personality. And if you or your loved one happens to be allergic to the nickel or another metal that is used to make many medical IDs, MedicAlert also has silicone IDs and other non-allergenic options.

Each item can be engraved with your important medical information that someone might need to know in the event of an emergency. You can fill out all of your information securely online, submit your order, and have your MedicAlert ID engraved and delivered in just days. Live life to the fullest no matter where your travels take you when you get your MedicAlert ID product and the protection of our 24/7 support.

What should you engrave on a MedicAlert ID for an EpiPen?

MedicAlert offers free custom engraving on all our medical ID products. The engraving should include any critical medical information that can protect and save your life if you are in an accident or have a medical emergency, including:

  • Type and severity of allergies (anaphylaxis)
  • Current medications
  • Use of an epinephrine delivery device (EpiPen), nebulizer, inhaler, etc.
  • Other health conditions

Sources: AAFA – Anaphylaxis in America, AAFA – Anaphylaxis Severe Allergic Reaction, Kids With Food Allergies, EpiPen – How an EpiPen Works, EpiPen – How to Use an EpiPen, Food Allergy Awareness – Epinephrine, Food Allergy Awareness – Anaphylaxis Treatment and Management, Food Allergy Awareness – Treatment Management, Cleveland Clinic, Harvard University, Medline Plus

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