How to Use an EpiPen: Everything You Need to Know

ProTrainings How to Use an EpiPen: Everything You Need to Know

Anyone can administer an EpiPen (also known as an epinephrine auto-injector), but for the best results in an emergency, it’s helpful to know how to use one correctly. After all, taking the time to learn how to use an auto-injector  can buy precious time for the person suffering from a severe allergic reaction. 

Given that nearly 11% of adults and 8% of children in the U.S. have food allergies, according to Allergy & Asthma Network, you probably know at least one person who carries an EpiPen. It stands to reason that one day, a friend or family member may go into anaphylactic shock and need your help administering an EpiPen.

Read on to learn how to react when anaphylaxis occurs, how to use an EpiPen, and everything else you should know about this simple, life-saving tool.

What Is the History & Purpose of an EpiPen?

According to Healthline, the EpiPen was designed in the 1970s and was originally intended for military use. It soon found its way onto the civilian market as a treatment for a severe allergic reaction.

Designed to be user-friendly, EpiPens can mean the difference between life and death for those who suffer from anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is caused by a severe allergic reaction and can be caused by anything from a peanut to a bee sting.

When you know how to use an EpiPen properly, this little adrenaline-filled needle has the power to re-open closed airways and give a sufferer of anaphylaxis precious minutes to seek further medical help.

How Much Does an EpiPen Cost?

In the past, the life-saving benefits of EpiPen versus the lack of competition on the market led to pharmaceutical companies raising the price, according to Forbes.

EpiPens also have a short shelf life — of just 12 months — which further increased the cost. In 2020, the average cost of a pack of two EpiPens in the U.S. for a person without medical insurance was $669.80. Doctors recommend two packs so a user always has a spare on hand.

Who Should Not Use an EpiPen?

Knowing how to use an EpiPen doesn’t necessarily mean you should use one. In some cases, an EpiPen can do more harm than good. 

Specifically, anyone who is not suffering from anaphylaxis should not use an EpiPen. The adrenaline increases the heart rate and can be fatal to anyone who doesn’t need it or who uses it for a reason other than treatment for anaphylaxis. 

Also, if someone has a known or unknown heart condition, an EpiPen could cause extra strain on the heart and cause severe negative results. If you have known heart conditions, be sure to talk to your doctor about specific use cases for epinephrine.

If you’ve accidentally injected an EpiPen into someone who is not experiencing anaphylaxis, seek emergency medical attention.

When to Use an EpiPen vs. Benadryl

While it’s important to know how to use an EpiPen, it’s also important to keep in mind that an EpiPen is used to treat severe allergic reactions. Depending on the severity of the reaction, the person may be able to administer it themselves, or they may be too encumbered by the reaction to have the capacity to do this.

ProTrainings How to Use an EpiPen: Everything You Need to Know

This is where you could come in. With a little training, you could help save a life.

Anaphylaxis is the result of an overwhelming histamine reaction by the immune system.   Antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and others may be a good option for milder allergic reactions or for after epinephrine has been given. 

Unlike the epinephrine in EpiPens, antihistamines take some time to start working and they will help stop the symptoms from getting worse, but they don’t help in reversing the critical symptoms.

When to Use an EpiPen

Allergic reactions range from mild to fatal. If someone around you displays the following symptoms, it may be time to use an EpiPen: 

  • Swelling
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fast heart rate
  • Confusion
  • A rash or hives
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Sometimes during a severe allergic reaction, a person will lose consciousness completely. If in doubt, use the auto injector! It may preserve someone’s life for long enough to allow for medical help to arrive. The effect of the adrenaline is temporary, and the victim will need further treatment – possibly even a second epinephrine auto-injector – so be sure to call for help after administering the EpiPen. 

With further medical treatment, it is common for the victim to be given an antihistamine, a steroid, and possibly a breathing treatment.

How to Use an EpiPen

If someone you know has a severe allergy, knowing where they keep an EpiPen as well as when and how to use it can make all the difference when you’re waiting for medical professionals to arrive. 

First, keep calm. Then, follow these two simple steps:

  1. Grasp the EpiPen in your fist with the orange tip pointing downwards, and remove the blue safety cap by pulling it straight up. Do NOT put your thumb over either end of the device.
  2. Place the orange tip against the middle of the outer thigh. Swing and push the EpiPen firmly into the thigh until it clicks. Hold it firmly in place for three seconds.

A common myth is that you cannot use an EpiPen through clothing. This is untrue.

How to Keep an EpiPen in Good Condition

It’s essential to not only know how to use an EpiPen properly but also store it correctly to ensure maximum effectiveness when the time comes to use it.

  • Keep an EpiPen at room temperature
  • Keep an EpiPen in its carrier tube
  • Keep the blue safety cap on the EpiPen until it’s needed for injection
  • Ensure the solution inside is always clear. You can check this through the viewing window on the side of the injector. 

EpiPens can save lives when used properly. However, expired medications may lose potency or be dangerous to use. Be sure to keep your medications up to date.

Always seek further medical treatment after administering the adrenaline, and only give someone an EpiPen under the right circumstances. When you know how to use an EpiPen correctly, it offers a lifeline for people who suffer from anaphylaxis. 

To learn more about epinephrine and its effects on the body, check out our Anaphylaxis & Epinephrine Auto-Injector course. Contact us today to discuss how ProTrainings can help broaden your staff’s knowledge of CPR techniques. We can make getting your staff CPR certified easier and more efficient.