EpiPens are an emergency life-saving device. Knowing how to use one is sometimes the only way to prevent death from sudden, anaphylactic shock. Even if you don’t have allergies, you can use this knowledge to save others.
If you don’t know how to use an EpiPen, read on and we’ll teach you.
We’ll tell you the warning signs of anaphylactic shock, detailed steps for how to administer an EpiPen, possible side effects and other tips for EpiPen use. Study this guide and be prepared for an anaphylactic emergency.
When to Use an EpiPen
Before you learn how to use an EpiPen, know when to use it. Here are the warning signs of anaphylaxis:
- Pale skin
- Chest tightness
- Red, flushed skin
- Difficulty swallowing
- An itchy, red rash or hives
- Wheezing, difficulty breathing
- Confusion, dizziness or fainting
- A fast heartbeat or weakened pulse
- Swelling of the throat, tongue, mouth or face
- Abdominal pain, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea
If you see these symptoms come on suddenly, or if the person displaying these symptoms is known to have allergic reactions, use the steps below to administer an EpiPen.
How to Use an EpiPen
Instructions for EpiPen use are summed up on the official EpiPen website with the rhyme, “Blue to the sky, Orange to the thigh.” We’ll explain in more detail, but you can still use this rhyme to help you remember.
Remove outer packaging and hold EpiPen with the blue cap pointing up. (“Blue to the sky.”)
Remove the blue safety cap by pulling it straight up. Do not try to bend or twist the cap off.
And be careful not to touch the orange tip or you may set off the auto-injection system. You only get one shot with the auto-injection system. If you accidentally trigger it early, the medicine will be wasted.
To inject the medicine, firmly press the orange tip into the outer, middle thigh at a 90-degree angle until you hear a “click.” (“Orange to the thigh.”)
You don’t need to inject it into a vein, just the muscular “meat” of the thigh. But it does have to be the thigh — nowhere else will do.
The EpiPen can be administered on bare skin or through clothing.
Hold the EpiPen in place for 3-10 seconds to make sure all the medicine makes it into the body.
Remove the EpiPen by pulling it straight out. If you remove the needle at an angle, you could tear the flesh. Not only would that be painful, but the medicine could also leak out in the resulting bleeding.
Massage the thigh around the injection area for about 10 seconds. This helps the medicine absorb into the muscle.
Once the EpiPen is removed, the protective orange cover will extend back over the needle to prevent it from being used again or accidentally pricking anyone else. Immediately place the spent EpiPen back into its carrier tube. Give it to the emergency medical response team when they arrive.
Do not throw a used EpiPen into a regular garbage can and do not tamper with a used EpiPen. Used needles of any kind are a biological hazard. Extreme caution must be taken at their disposal to prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens.
EpiPens come in 2-packs for a reason. If the patient does not show much or any improvement after 15 minutes, repeat the process with the second EpiPen on the opposite thigh.
The easiest way to gauge improvement is by paying attention to the patient’s breathing. The tightness of throat and restricted breathing should subside fairly quickly. If it doesn’t, you’ll know you need to use the second pen.
If someone hasn’t already, call 911 after administering the EpiPen. It may seem strange, but it’s important that calling 911 is the last step and not the first.
Anaphylaxis can become severe in as little as 3 minutes. Because anaphylactic shock can so quickly lead to death, it’s considered a “treat-first” condition.
If you wait to administer epinephrine until after you’ve contacted emergency services, it may be too late. Always administer first and call last.
However, it is still necessary to call 911 after epinephrine is administered, even if the patient seems fine. After subsiding, anaphylaxis may return later, and it’s just as deadly the second time.
Around 40% of anaphylaxis patients will require a second or even a third dose of epinephrine. For this reason, it’s necessary that they remain monitored by medical professionals for about 8 hours to determine if it’s safe to release them.
Here’s a video on how to use an epipen if you need a visual aid
Side Effects of EpiPen Use
Many patients experience side effects after using an EpiPen, including:
- A headache
- Feelings of anxiety
- Fast pulse or pounding heart
If these or any other side effects are experienced, let medical professionals know when they arrive.
Other Tips for EpiPen Use
The sooner anaphylactic shock is treated, the less severe it is likely to get. Don’t wait to administer the EpiPen.
As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.” If you have a history of anaphylactic shock or severe allergic reactions, keep an EpiPen or another auto-injectable epinephrine device on your person at all times.
In fact, make sure you have two in case the second is needed. If someone else you know has severe allergies, make sure they have two as well.
Be aware of expiration dates of EpiPens. Expired medicine may not be potent enough to work.
The steps above are based specifically on the EpiPen brand of auto-injectable epinephrine. These steps will not all be the same for other brands of auto-injectable epinephrine. If you use a brand other than EpiPen, make sure you follow the instructions according to the packaging.
Stay Safe and Protect Others
Now that you know how to use an EpiPen, follow these tips and spread the word to keep yourself and others safe in case of an anaphylactic emergency.