The epinephrine auto-injector, commonly referred to by the brand name EpiPen, is a device that delivers life-saving medicine to someone experiencing anaphylaxis. If you have a child with a food allergy that has caused anaphylaxis, you know how important it is to have this device on your child, at school and at home at all times. But you may be surprised to find out that many people who should carry EpiPens don’t. What are the reasons, and how can medical professionals get around those reasons to help keep people safer?
Why EpiPens Are So Important
Epinephrine injections are life-saving because they work immediately to counteract the effects of anaphylaxis. This extreme allergic reaction causes the throat, mouth, tongue and face to swell and can quickly lead to asphyxiation and death. Epinephrine rapidly reduces that swelling, allowing the victim to breathe again. It also supports the circulation of blood. Without an EpiPen on hand, someone experiencing anaphylaxis may not have time to get to a hospital or for paramedics to arrive to administer treatment before the reaction becomes fatal. This is why having that device available at all times is so important. It literally saves lives.
Obstacles to Carrying EpiPens
So why would someone with an allergy that could cause anaphylaxis not carry a life-saving device? It’s hard to fathom, but studies have found that only between 17 and 35 percent of people who have had anaphylactic reaction were treated with an epinephrine injector. Those most at risk of dying from anaphylaxis because of not having an injector on hand are teens and young adults.
Some of the obstacles include faulty rationale when it comes to assessing risk. Some people, for instance, remember having been fine after a previous reaction and decide not to carry an injector because of that. Others may feel that it makes sense to rely on antihistamines instead of carrying an EpiPen. Some people in studies have reported not carrying one simply because they don’t think they need the device or because it is not convenient to do so. Other obstacles include a fear of needles and injections, being unsure how to work the device or not confident about using it.
How to Get More Young People to Carry EpiPens
If you are the parent of an older child or teen you may be struggling with this issue. You may have a teenager who doesn’t think he needs the device anymore because he hasn’t had a reaction in a long time or because it’s embarrassing. So how do parents and others change this and make sure reactions to allergens don’t become fatalities?
One study of teens who did not always carry their EpiPens found that the reasons were highly individualized. The researchers suggested that a one-size-fits-all intervention would not work, but that doctors or allergists need to talk to their teen patients individually, to talk about managing risks, how to use the device and the possible consequences of not carrying it.
The study also found that although the reasons were highly varied, a lot of the explanations for not carrying EpePens came down to the auto injector’s design and the hassle of carrying it. A newly-designed epinephrine injector may change this. Called AdrenaCard, the new device made by a startup medical company is the size of a credit card and can fit in a wallet or pocket. It is still in development but, if approved, could be a solution for teens and others who don’t carry the bulkier pens.
If you have a child at risk for anaphylaxis, have a talk about risks and potential consequences of not having epinephrine on hand at all times. Make sure your child knows how to use the device correctly, and if necessary make an appointment with your pediatrician or allergist to talk about the importance of always carrying an EpiPen.