What Exactly Is an EpiPen Anyway?

EpiPens 1It’s nearly impossible to talk about food allergies without mentioning the EpiPen. The EpiPen is an auto-injector containing a single dose of epinephrine, a synthetic drug that mimics adrenaline. It is a life-saving device that allows the user to quickly and easily administer epinephrine during a serious allergic reaction. While best known for treating anaphylaxis, epinephrine can also treat asthma attacks and even cardiac arrest. The standard EpiPen injector contains 0.3mg of epinephrine, the recommended minimum dose for those who weigh 66 pounds or more. For younger children, the EpiPen Jr. contains a half dose, and is appropriate for those who weigh 33 to 66 pounds.


Adrenaline was first discovered in 1895 by Napoleon Cybuski, a researcher from Poland. Nine years later, it was synthesized by two chemists, Friedrich Stolz and Henry Drysdale Dakin. Since then, epinephrine has likely saved thousands of lives. The EpiPen brand auto-injector came about much more recently, in 1987, as an answer to the problem of traveling while carrying epinephrine in case of emergency.

How It Works

Epinephrine works in a similar way to the body’s naturally produced adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone. Like adrenaline, it restricts blood flow in some areas and increases it in others. It also opens the airways, increases the heart rate and suppresses the immune system. (Chronic stress causes a higher risk of getting sick because adrenaline is a natural stress response.)

It is absolutely critical to understand that the EpiPen does not make eating allergens safe. Just because you have an EpiPen on hand doesn’t mean your child can consume a known allergen, not even “just a taste.” Keep in mind also that a mild reaction one time could escalate to a life-threatening reaction the next time.

Side effects of epinephrine include:

  • – Increased heart rate
  • – Dilated pupils
  • – Sweating
  • – Nausea
  • – Rise in blood pressure
  • – Dizziness
  • – Headache
  • – Anxiety


How to Use

  • – Store in a cool, dark place. Below 59°F and above 86°F, your EpiPen will be rendered ineffective, so make sure throw yours away if it is exposed to warmer or colder temperatures.
  • – The epinephrine in your EpiPen expires after one year, so it will need replacing annually. Discard after the expiration date.
  • – Make sure an EpiPen is available at all times, including at home, at school and when traveling.
  • – Use the EpiPen if your child comes into contact with a known allergen or is showing symptoms of an allergic reaction. It’s important to use the EpiPen as quickly as possible for the best chance of successfully reversing the reaction process.



The EpiPen is very easy to use, but make sure you walk yourself through the steps in advance so you’ll be confident and ready if you actually have to use it. For more detailed instructions, visit the EpiPen site or consult your child’s doctor.

  1. Prepare for injection: Remove your EpiPen from its container and flip open the cap (it will be yellow or green). Then, hold the EpiPen with the orange tip facing downward and remove the safety release. Note: Keep your fingers away from the orange tip—that’s where the needle is, and it must be kept sterile prior to injection.
  2. Administer the dose: At a 90-degree angle, push the orange tip against your child’s thigh (do not attempt to administer anywhere else) until you hear a “click.” Hold for about 10 seconds before releasing.
  3. After injection: Remove the injector and massage the area for 10 seconds. After you’ve successfully administered the dose of epinephrine, get medical help right away, even if your child’s symptoms subside, and be sure to bring the used EpiPen with you. Note that you may need to administer additional doses.

Since the EpiPen and other auto-injectors were developed, many lives have been saved, including the lives of children with food allergies. While it’s not a perfect solution, and while we would all prefer a cure rather than just an emergency treatment, the EpiPen is nonetheless an extremely important device that helps parents and children rest a little easier.



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