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How to Use an EpiPen

May 23, 2023

An EpiPen can be the barrier between life and death in some situations. This auto-injector device is used to rapidly deliver epinephrine via thigh muscle to someone who’s experiencing anaphylaxis — a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Epinephrine is the first line medication for treatment of anaphylaxis. 

Who Needs an EpiPen?

Many people have allergies (including more than 50 million Americans) that range in severity. If you have mild, seasonal allergies, chances are you do not need an EpiPen. But if you have an allergy that causes anaphylaxis, you might be a good candidate for an EpiPen.

EpiPen is a brand name for epinephrine, a medication used to treat severe allergic reactions, also known as anaphylaxis. You can’t buy an EpiPen over the counter; you will need a prescription from a medical provider. Make an appointment with a medical provider or allergy specialist to discuss your allergies, symptoms, and why you think you might need an EpiPen. They can help you determine if an EpiPen is right for you. 

Approximately 4.7 million EpiPen devices were sold in the United States in 2015.

According to Mylan, the company that manufactures EpiPens.

Common Causes and Triggers of Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds or minutes after exposure to an allergen, such as food, medication, insect stings, or latex. Anaphylaxis is triggered by an allergen, something you’re allergic to, that causes your immune system to overreact. These allergens, and the severity, vary from person to person. 

A medical provider can help pinpoint your allergens through different tests, including allergy patch tests and blood testing for allergies

 The most common causes and triggers of anaphylaxis are:

  • Peanuts and tree nuts.
  • Other food, including seafood and milk.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Within minutes, anaphylaxis symptoms can emerge. Use the EpiPen at the first sign of anaphylaxis. Symptoms can include:

  • Severe hives or a rash.
  • Drop in blood pressure, causing a weak pulse or confusion.
  • Painful chest tightness.
  • Swelling in the throat or tongue.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing.
  • Dizziness.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • An intense feeling of panic or anxiety.

An Epipen should be used as soon as possible when a person experiences anaphylaxis. 

Says the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI)

How to Use an EpiPen on Yourself

Woman injecting herself on the leg with an epipen

Overall, there are three main steps to using an EpiPen, according to the device manufacturer:

  1. Prepare.
  2. Administer.
  3. Seek emergency medical help.

Remember: The most important thing is to stay calm. This way, you’ll be able to properly administer the EpiPen, giving yourself a better chance at stopping the severe allergic reaction.

Prepare the Device

  1. After removing the EpiPen from its carrier, flip open the yellow cap, and slide out the device.
  2. Grip the auto-injector in a fist; point the orange tip downward. Think, “Blue to the sky; orange to the thigh®.”
  3. Use your other hand to free the blue safety release. Pull the release straight and upward without bending or twisting the device.

Administer the injection

  1. Hold the orange tip at a right angle against the middle of your outer thigh. 
  2. Swing the EpiPen back about 6-8 inches; firmly push it into your thigh. You’ll hear a clicking sound, which lets you know that the injection has started.
  3. Firmly hold the injection in place for about 3 seconds.
  4. Remove the device from your thigh.
  5. Gently massage the area around the injection site for about 10 seconds.

Seek Emergency Medical Help

Once you’ve injected the medication, call 911 or have someone drive you to a nearby emergency room. It’s possible that your symptoms may reoccur, even after you’ve injected the EpiPen. If you did not respond to the first dose, you might need a second dose.

Read the Manufacturer’s Instructions

Make sure to always review your medication manufacturer’s administration instructions — especially if you’re using an epinephrine auto-injector that is not an EpiPen. (Keep in mind: “EpiPen” is a well-known brand name, but there are generic versions available, too.)

Reena Patel, DO
Medically Reviewed By: Reena Patel, DO
Reviewed on: April 24, 2023

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