Knowing how to correctly use an EpiPen could save someone’s life in an emergency. Whether you have severe allergies yourself or know someone in your life who does, it’s important to be prepared.
What is an EpiPen?
An EpiPen is a type of adrenaline autoinjector. It is designed to inject a single dose of adrenaline (epinephrine) into someone who is having a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
An EpiPen can be administered by anyone, including the person experiencing anaphylaxis themselves. Using an EpiPen could save someone’s life.
A person who is at risk of anaphylaxis should always carry an adrenaline autoinjector on them. EpiPen is the most well known brand of adrenaline autoinjectors.
How does an EpiPen work?
An EpiPen contains a single dose of adrenaline, also known as epinephrine. Adrenaline is a type of hormone that can help manage a person’s allergic reaction by:
- Relaxing the airway muscles and making it easier to breathe
- Raising the blood pressure from dangerously low levels
- Reducing swelling on the face, lips and throat
An EpiPen looks like a cylinder with a blue cap on one end and an orange nose on the other. The orange side contains the needle.
The orange cap will automatically cover the needle so that it is never exposed before or after using the EpiPen.
When the blue safety cap is removed and the EpiPen is pushed firmly into the patient’s thigh, the dose of adrenaline will be released.
Visual and written instructions are printed on the body of the cylinder. A person with severe allergies and their close friends and family should know how to use the EpiPen in case of an emergency.
When should you use an EpiPen?
An EpiPen should be used when someone is having an allergic reaction that threatens their life (anaphylaxis).
The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tight throat
- Swollen tongue
- Difficulty talking
- Wheezing or coughing
- Floppy body (in children)
- Abdominal pain
Anaphylaxis may be caused by hypersensitivity to certain types of:
- Other causes
The EpiPen should be used as soon as possible to reverse the life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis. An ambulance or other emergency medical help should also be called as the patient may need further treatment.
Safety precautions before you use an EpiPen
It is important to check the state of your EpiPen regularly to ensure it is ready in case of an emergency. Do not remove the blue safety cap unless you are using the EpiPen.
You should be able to see the contents of an EpiPen by looking through the viewing window.
Do not use an EpiPen if:
- The contents are cloudy, coloured or have sediment in them.
- The viewing window is obscured.
- The EpiPen has expired.
- The packaging is torn or broken.
How to use an EpiPen (step-by-step)
An EpiPen is simple to use and can be administered by anyone, not just medical professionals. Follow the steps below to administer an EpiPen to yourself or another adult.
- Grab the EpiPen with your dominant hand, making a fist around it. The blue part should be upwards, above your thumb. The orange part should be facing downwards, near your pinky finger. Hold the EpiPen in the centre, not too close to either end.
- Pull off the blue safety release by lifting it straight upwards.
- Hold the patient’s leg still. They can be sitting or lying down and the leg can be clothed or bare.
- Place the orange end against the outside of their mid-thigh.
- Push down hard and listen for a clicking sound. Hold the EpiPen in place for a further 3 seconds.
- Remove the EpiPen. Gently massage the injection area on your thigh.
- Call for medical help.
How to use an EpiPen on a child
For children weighing over 30kg, you can use a standard EpiPen with the same method above.
For children between 15kg and 30kg, a specially designed autoinjector should be used called an EpiPen Jr. This type of EpiPen will deliver a smaller dose of adrenaline to the child.
The application should follow the same steps as listed above. Smaller children may need to be held in an adult’s lap to keep their leg still.
An EpiPen should not be used on children under 15kg. Speak to your doctor about other options available for children under 15kg.
What are the side effects of using an EpiPen?
Common side effects of using an EpiPen include:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Feeling anxious, nervous or excited
You should notify your doctor of all medications you are currently taking and if any of the following conditions apply to you:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- High blood pressure
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Thyroid problems
Where to buy an EpiPen in Australia?
A person who has severe allergies should always carry an EpiPen with them. EpiPens will expire over time so it is important to make sure you have up to date EpiPens on hand in case of an emergency.