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Save a Life: How to Use an Epinephrine Auto-Injector

By HERWriter
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Emergencies are scary, especially when a person is not prepared. That’s why it’s important to have a wide array of knowledge, like knowing how to use an epinephrine auto-injector.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot on the Web about this emergency device, but there are a few things you should know. Most importantly, these injectors are used to treat anaphylaxis, which is “a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death,” according to www.foodallergy.org. Causes include allergies to food, medication, insect stings and latex.

Symptoms include skin symptoms, swollen lips, difficulty breathing, reduced blood pressure and gastrointestinal symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea, according to www.foodallergy.org.

In 2001 in California schools, the California Department of Education required school personnel to be able to administer the injectors in emergencies, since there were a lot of cases of anaphylaxis.

Here are the symptoms the California Department of Education (CDE) lists for anaphylaxis:

- Hives
- Itching (of any part of the body)
- Swelling (of any body parts)
- Red, watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Vomiting
- Diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Change of voice
- Coughing
- Wheezing
- Throat tightness or closing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Sense of doom
- Dizziness
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Change of color

According to the CDE, the effects of the EpiPen, a brand of injectors, the relief of anaphylaxis only lasts 10 to 15 minutes, so someone should call 911 right away. However, you could save a life by relieving these symptoms temporarily if done the right way.

Here are some steps a person must go through in order to administer the epinephrine auto-injector, according to the CDE:

1) Make sure the person is sitting down and calm, since this will help reduce the spread of the allergen in the person’s body. Call 911.

2) Grab the injector firmly with one hand and pull off the gray safety cap (for the EpiPen).

3) Hold the black tip near the outer thigh of the person. Don’t put any body parts over the black tip. If someone gets poked, go to an emergency room.

4) “Swing and jab” the black tip forcefully into the outer bare thigh. The injector should be at a 90-degree angle, or perpendicular to the thigh. There should be a click. Although it’s better to not have clothes on the area, the injector can still get through if needed.

5) Keep the injector in the same spot for 10 seconds and then remove it. If the person feels his or her heart pounding, this is normal, according to the CDE.

6) Massage the injection site for several seconds, then check to see if the needle on the black tip is exposed. If so, then you did it correctly. If not, try again.

7) Safely dispose of the sharp objects.

8) If an insect stinger caused the allergic reaction, remove it quickly. Scrape it off the skin but don’t push or squeeze, since the stinger may dig in deeper and inject more venom.

9) If the person stops breathing, try CPR. Monitor their breathing and condition always. If needed, cover the person with a blanket to help regulate body temperature and reduce shock.

10) If paramedics do not arrive within 15 to 20 minutes after the first injection, use a new injector and repeat the same steps.

11) For more information, check out the CDE site below.


Add a Comment3 Comments

We learned this in my CPR class; but, admittedly, I'd be terrified to have to administer the injection to someone! We did learn to simply "jab" the fleshiest part of the thigh, not to "swing."

It's one of those things, like CPR, that you hope you never have to do, but would be glad you learned how.

September 9, 2009 - 4:14pm

Excellent article to raise awareness. People who carry an Epi-pen are taught how to use it but may be unable and might need help from bystanders.

September 9, 2009 - 7:28am
EmpowHER Guest

"Swing and jab" is not the best practice anymore. It is better to apply firm pressure to the leg with the epipen tip in the outer thigh. There is the uncomfortable & dangerous possibility of broken needles and poor administration of the epinephrine with "swing and jab," especially if the target is a small child's leg.

Thanks for a good post on a topic that often gets overlooked -- what to do in an anaphylactic emergency and how to recognize one.

September 9, 2009 - 5:07am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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