What is Epinephrine?
Epinephrine is an adrenaline hormone your body produces in response to stressful situations, often called the “fight or flight” response. The epinephrine you get as a medication has a similar effect on your body. It increases your heart rate and blood pressure, relaxes muscles in your airways, reverses swelling and suppresses your immune system’s response to allergens – temporarily halting life-threatening effects of an anaphylactic reaction.
Anaphylaxis guidelines stress that epinephrine is the only drug that will reverse an anaphylactic episode and it should be given as soon as possible when symptoms appear. Any delay greatly increases the chance of requiring hospitalization — and fatal reactions are often associated with either delay in or failure to use epinephrine. Always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors in case symptoms recur before emergency medical assistance is available. Up to 35% of people will requite more than one dose.
People with asthma as well as life-threatening allergies are at increased risk of anaphylaxis and the symptoms can mimic each other. If you experience shortness of breath and/or wheezing right after you’ve eaten, for example, consider that you may have been accidentally exposed to a food allergen and should use your epinephrine auto-injector.
About Epinephrine Auto-injectors
Epinephrine auto-injectors are simple to use and come with clear instructions. One type of epinephrine auto-injector is a prescription device about the size of a magic marker that contains a premeasured dose of epinephrine. Another device is the size of a small, thin cell phone.** There are two different strengths available, to treat different body weights. In both devices, the needle in an auto-injector sits protected inside the device until you push the injector against your thigh. The needle is designed to go through clothing.
Store your auto-injectors as close to room temperature as possible. Leaving them in extremely hot or cold temperatures may make the epinephrine ineffective or cause the injector to malfunction. But if you’re outside, you do need to keep it close at hand, so try to keep your injector close to your body (to keep it warm) on cold days and in a purse or backpack on hot days. Do not store it your car or the refrigerator.
Keep your epinephrine auto-injector out of direct sunlight, which can cause the epinephrine to oxidize (combine with oxygen, which changes the makeup of the drug) and become ineffective. Oxidized epinephrine will appear dark or have solid particles in it. Epinephrine can also oxidize on its own over time, so check your device regularly to be sure the liquid inside looks clear.
Epinephrine auto-injectors have an expiration date. Check the date on your devices regularly, including back-ups that may be in a nurse’s office or at a family member’s house.
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