Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is a hormone and a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical messenger that acts in the brain. This is a natural substance, but for more than 100 years we have been making epinephrine synthetically, in the lab, for a very good reason: it saves lives every day.
How Synthetic Epinephrine Saves Lives
Synthetic epinephrine is the active ingredient in injectable devices, often called EpiPens, which are used to reverse severe allergic reactions. EpiPen is a brand name, but it is commonly used to refer to any injectable form of single-dose epinephrine. These devices allow a person to administer just the right dose of the hormone to a person suffering from anaphylaxis, the life-threatening reaction that sometimes occurs when someone is exposed to an allergen like peanuts or bee stings.
How Does Synthetic Epinephrine Work?
When a person is suffering from anaphylaxis, the symptoms are frightening and life-threatening. The symptoms include low blood pressure, a weak pulse, hives, flushing, itchy skin, nausea and vomiting, and dizziness. The scariest symptoms, though, are the swelling of the face, lips, tongue and throat, which make the allergic reaction life-threatening. This swelling can cause enough constriction in the airways to be fatal. Synthetic epinephrine works by relaxing the constricting muscles and tightening blood vessels. This stops the swelling so the person can breathe normally again.
How Synthetic Epinephrine is Used
Synthetic epinephrine is most often used to treat anaphylaxis in the form of an injection. Injectable devices were developed and designed to be used easily by anyone, including the person having the reaction. There are other medical uses for epinephrine, such as treating cardiac arrest and croup. It is also sometimes used in an inhalable form to relax the airways in someone suffering from asthma, or as an injectable for an acute asthma attack.
Possible Side Effects
Although synthetic epinephrine is life-saving, it can also cause side effects in some people. Regardless of the side effects, it is always important to use injectable epinephrine when someone is suffering a severe allergic reaction. Possible side effects may include a racing heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, pale skin, shakiness, weakness and difficulty breathing. When using an epinephrine pen, it is necessary to also seek emergency medical attention, even as breathing returns to normal. Any side effect should be reported at that time.
Is it Possible to Be Allergic to Synthetic Epinephrine?
Experts generally agree that being allergic to epinephrine is not possible or is at least exceptionally rare. The confusion arises when someone reacts to an added ingredient in an epinephrine preparation. Someone might assume it was a reaction to the epinephrine, but it is much more likely to have been caused by some other ingredient, like latex for instance.
It is also possible that someone may have an adverse reaction to epinephrine, but this isn’t the same as an allergic reaction. An adverse reaction simply means having uncomfortable side effects. With epinephrine that could mean a rapid and forceful heartbeat, dizziness and sweating, symptoms that are easily confused with an allergic reaction.
Synthetic epinephrine is truly a life-saving medication. Although using it is not always comfortable and may lead to side effects and bad reactions, it is crucial for saving lives in the event of severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.