What is an EpiPen&Reg;?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An EpiPen® is an autoinjector which delivers a carefully metered dose of epinephrine intramuscularly via a spring-loaded needle. This device is designed to be used in the emergency treatment of severe allergic reactions. Several companies manufacture epinephrine autoinjectors, with the EpiPen® being one of the most popular and widely recognized brands. In fact, the brand is so well known that it is sometimes used in a generic sense, despite attempts to prevent this by Day, L.P., the company which owns the brand.

EpiPens are used in the treatment of severe allergic reactions.
EpiPens are used in the treatment of severe allergic reactions.

Two dosages of EpiPen® are manufactured. The regular EpiPen® delivers .3 milligrams of epinephrine, while the EpiPen® Jr. delivers .15 milligrams. A doctor will write a prescription based on the patient's weight, with the Jr. version being recommended for children, while adults are usually prescribed the regular version. The device is designed so that patients can use it on themselves, simply uncapping the EpiPen® and pressing it against an injection site like the thigh to activate the autoinjector.

Anaphylactic shock can completely cut off the airway without emergency treatment.
Anaphylactic shock can completely cut off the airway without emergency treatment.

Epinephrine is administered in hospitals and clinics when patients arrive with severe allergic reactions leading to anaphylaxis. If a patient is at risk of developing anaphylaxis as a result of exposure to allergens, an EpiPen® may be prescribed to provide the patient with rapid emergency treatment so that he or she can be stabilized long enough to go to the hospital. The patient needs medical treatment within 20 minutes, as the epinephrine will wear off, and it is also important to keep the patient still and warm after an epinephrine injection.

Emergency medical attention is necessary after an epinephrine injection.
Emergency medical attention is necessary after an epinephrine injection.

EpiPen® is designed to be easily carried by patients so that they will have it available at all times. The device comes in a hard plastic carrying case which protects it from impact and UV exposure, and provides a convenient container to keep the needle safe after the medication has been dispensed. Patients should bring the used EpiPen® to the hospital so that they can show that they have administered epinephrine, and doctors can check the dosage. The hospital will also dispose of the device for the patient.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be necessary if the person experiencing anaphylaxis is unresponsive and not breathing.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be necessary if the person experiencing anaphylaxis is unresponsive and not breathing.

Typically, an EpiPen® will last for around 20 months, after which point it should be brought to a doctor or a hospital for safe disposal. The device should also be discarded if the medication appears discolored, indicating that it has been exposed to UV radiation and that it may be less effective. Patients should not share their EpiPen® prescriptions with anyone else, and they may want to train close friends in the use of the device so that in the event that the patient is incapacitated by allergies, someone will know what to do.

The prescription for an EpiPen® must be written by a doctor.
The prescription for an EpiPen® must be written by a doctor.
A doctor take a patient's weight into account when prescribing an EpiPen.
A doctor take a patient's weight into account when prescribing an EpiPen.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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