What is an Epipen?
An Epipen is a type of adrenaline auto-injector which contains epinephrine. It is arguably the best known brand of adrenaline auto injectors, and is widely used to save the lives of those suffering from severe allergies and anaphylaxis.
Simply put, an Epipen is a shot of adrenaline that’s prescribed to people with severe allergies so that they can use it in an emergency whilst they wait for medical help.
Epipen is one of the three brands of epinephrine injections available in the UK, alongside Emerade and Jext. It is available both from your own GP, and from private prescribing services such as Doctor4U if you’re wanting to buy an extra pen or if your doctor can’t prescribe one for you at the moment.
In the UK, you can only obtain an Epipen if you’ve suffered from anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction previously. It’s a prescription only medication which means that your prescriber must deem it suitable and appropriate for you before you’re able to have one.
How does an Epipen work?
Epinephrine is the form of adrenaline that is used in Epipens and other brands of adrenaline auto-injectors. It’s used for its ability to reverse the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, as it can constrict blood vessels in order to allow your blood pressure to return to normal, as well as relaxing the airways so that you can breathe easier.
Adrenaline is usually produced by the adrenal glands and t helps to regulate several bodily functions. However, when histamine is produced as a response to an allergen, it can cause difficulty breathing, and the adrenaline produced by your body often isn’t enough to counteract this. This is why epinephrine injections are given to those that are known to suffer from anaphylactic shock, so that their breathing and blood pressure can return to a safe level.
Taking an Epipen injection is the first step towards recovering from anaphylactic shock, and it’s recommended that you keep two injections on you at all times, as sometimes if symptoms don’t improve within 5-15 minutes, you may need to take a second dose before an ambulance arrives.
This type of adrenaline is a fast-acting medication that helps to save lives across the world when used correctly.
When to use Epipen
You should only ever use your Epipen if you’re experiencing anaphylaxis, or a severe allergic reaction. Using it when you don’t need to can be dangerous, but this shouldn’t discourage you from using it when you notice symptoms of anaphylaxis.
You should always use your Epipen as soon as you start to notice symptoms of anaphylaxis, especially if you know that you may have been exposed to an allergen or trigger. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Feeling faint or lightheaded
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast heart rate
- Clammy skin
- Stomach pain
You may not experience all of these in an episode of anaphylactic shock, but as soon as you begin to notice a combination of symptoms, you should use your Epipen and call 999 for emergency medical attention.
Epipens do have an expiry date, so it’s important to make sure that your pens are always in date. Luckily, Epipen have an expiry alert service which lets you know when your auto-injector is about to expire. You can find the service here: http://www.Epipen.co.uk/patients/expiry-alert-service/
Epipen side effects
Whilst some people experience unpleasant side effects, it’s important to remember that these are the lesser of two evils and are much easier to recover from than anaphylactic shock. The most commonly reported side effects include:
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Feeling anxious
- Headache / head pain
- Pounding heart
- Involuntary tremor
- Loss of skin colour
If you do experience any of the above side effects, ask a paramedic, doctor or nurse for advice on how to cope with them. A paramedic should arrive with you shortly after you’ve called an ambulance for anaphylaxis.
Can I use an Epipen?
Epipens are generally prescribed to people with a history of anaphylaxis, or a known risk that it might occur. Most people in this situation are able to use the auto-injector, but some people need to take extra care and ask their GP for advice. These include people with:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Adrenal gland tumours
- Glaucoma or other conditions that cause raised pressure in the eyeballs
- High calcium levels
- Low potassium levels
- An age of over 50
- An allergy to sodium metabisulphite
You might be concerned if you’re pregnant and at risk of an anaphylaxis. The general advice is to not hesitate and to use the Epipen despite being pregnant, as not using it when you need it might cause serious problems for you and the baby.
There are also some medications that if you’re taking, may require you to use an epi-pen with caution. If you use any of the following, please see your GP for advice before using adrenaline:
- Beta blockers such as propranolol
- MAOI antidepressants
- Tricyclic antidepressants
How to use an Epipen
It’s extremely important to learn how to use an Epipen before you need it, and to teach others how to administer it as well, just in case you become too ill to do it yourself.
Training devices are available for free from Epipen’s website so that you and the people around you can practice using it. http://www.Epipen.co.uk/patients/my-Epipenr-resources/
Instructions on how to use your Epipen should be outlined in the patient information leaflet, as well as diagrams on the packaging of the injection. You should become familiar with these instructions when you first receive your Epipen rather than waiting until you need to use it. Epipens are designed to be easy to use in an emergency, and once the safety release is off, it should be operable with one hand.
Your Epipen is colour-coded, with a blue safety release, and an orange tip with the needle inside.
When you experience symptoms of anaphylaxis, you should get into a comfortable position (usually on your back or sitting up), and flip open the cap of the case that the injection is stored in (the cap is always at the blue end of the pen). Keep your fingers away from the orange needle cover, and pull off the blue safety release at the top of the pen.
You should line up the orange tip of the pen around 10cm away from your thigh, and jab it against your leg. The needle should then be released. Hold the pen in place for 3 seconds until you hear the device click. This means that the dose of epinephrine has been administered. Epipen will work through most clothing, including jeans, but you should avoid hitting any hard objects such as buttons, zips and seams.
You or someone around you should call an ambulance for emergency medical help, as even though you’ve administered the adrenaline injection, you will still need to be monitored in hospital for a few hours. If your symptoms don’t begin to improve within 5-15 minutes, you should use the second Epipen that you carry with you.
You might notice that your pen still contains some liquid after you’ve used it. You should discard this and not use the pen again, as each injection is single-use only.
The same instructions should apply for both Epipen and Epipen Junior.
Each Epipen costs £49.99 from Doctor4U, which includes an online consultation and prescription from one of our GMC registered doctors.
If you receive your Epipen on the NHS, a standard prescription charge will apply, as adrenaline injections aren’t free of charge.
You can buy an Epipen from Doctor4U after completing an online consultation form about your condition. One of our doctors will review this and then decide whether or not it is suitable for you. if they decide to prescribe it to you, it will be shipped to your address via whichever postal method you choose.
Many people choose to buy Epipens rather than having them prescribed as it allows them to purchase spare pens for peace of mind, especially if switching between different locations frequently, as it isn’t always easy to remember to take your medication with you.
Doctor4U can ship anywhere within the UK, so if you’re holidaying within England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales and realise that you’ve left your medication at home, you can buy an Epipen online to be delivered to your holiday destination.
Allergies that require an Epipen
Not all allergies require an Epipen. For example, if you suffer from a blocked, runny nose and watering eyes due to a pollen allergy, you won’t need an Epipen, just antihistamines. However, certain allergies can be extremely serious and fatal if not treated with adrenaline quickly. Some of these allergies include:
- Insect stings
- Insect bites
- Some medications
In some rare cases, exercise may cause anaphylactic shock, but more often than not, it is caused by an allergy to something in one of the categories listed above.