Epinephrine is a chemical that produces a number of effects in the body including opening airways, stimulating the heart and narrowing blood vessels to help raise dangerously low blood pressure. It can be used to reverse the symptoms of a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be triggered by things like insect stings and food allergies.
What is an Epinephrine Pen?
People with severe allergies are familiar with a device called an epinephrine pen. What is an epinephrine pen used for? It’s an auto-injector device that introduces the drug into the bloodstream. If you’re diagnosed with a severe allergy, you may ask, “Where can I buy an epinephrine pen?” Sources include your healthcare provider and pharmacy. Epinephrine pens are also available as an over-the-counter purchase.
How does an Epinephrine Pen Work?
An epinephrine injection acts on alpha- and beta-adrenergic receptors found on the walls of blood vessels and in the heart and lungs respectively. Epinephrine causes blood vessels to constrict while simultaneously stimulating the heart and opening airways.
Each brand of pen has its own directions for how to use epinephrine pens, so be sure to read the epinephrine pen instructions and talk with your doctor if you have questions. Using the EpiPen® as an example of how to give an epinephrine injection, the steps are:
- Remove the pen from the carrier tube.
- Hold it with the orange tip pointing downward.
- Remove the blue safety cap by pulling straight up – do not bend or twist.
- Place the orange tip against the middle of the outer thigh.
- Swing and push the auto-injector firmly into the thigh until it “clicks.”
- Hold firmly in place for 3 seconds – count slowly, “1, 2, 3.” After injection, the orange cover automatically extends to ensure the needle is never exposed.
- After using the pen, call 911.
- When the crisis has passed, dispose of the pen following safe needle disposal practices.
After using a pen, get another device, being sure it has the proper epinephrine dosage.
What are the Side Effects of an Epinephrine Pen?
While the prompt administration of epinephrine can save the life of someone who’s having a severe allergic reaction, there are certain epinephrine side effects. They include:
- Headache – If a headache becomes severe, talk with your doctor.
- Weakness – It’s best to sit or recline after an epinephrine injection.
- Nausea and vomiting – The medication may cause an upset stomach.
- Sweating – Epinephrine can cause excessive perspiration.
- Anxiety – Both the physiological and psychological effects of a severe allergic reaction and treatment can cause nervousness.
- Tremors – This is typically shaking of the hands.
- Pale skin – This can be caused by the narrowing of blood vessels.
- Fast, pounding or irregular heartbeat – Epinephrine stimulates the heart.
- Difficulty breathing – Talk with your doctor if this occurs.
While these side effects seem uncomfortable, they shouldn’t prevent someone who’s having an allergic reaction from using an epinephrine injection, as untreated anaphylaxis can lead to death if not treated. In rare cases, serious side effects such as fainting, seizures, confusion, vision changes or chest pain can occur. If you experience any of these, get medical help right away.
People who should be careful about using an epinephrine pen include those with heart disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, diabetes, thyroid disorders or Parkinson’s disease. If you have any of these conditions, talk with your doctor about how to proceed in the event of a severe allergic reaction.
The body reacts quickly to epinephrine, but the effects don’t last long. If you’ve had to get an epinephrine injection, seek medical attention immediately afterward. The medication can cause dizziness, so driving should be avoided.