Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is a hormone secreted by the body’s adrenal glands. It is a hormone that triggers the “fight or flight” response in humans when a threat or danger is present. This response floods the body with energy, providing the means for running away. Epinephrine is used medically to treat various conditions, specifically anaphylaxis caused by an allergic reaction. Here’s everything you need to know about this life-saving medication.
What is Epinephrine and What Does it Do?
Epinephrine is used for a variety of medical emergencies, but most commonly for heart attacks and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a condition caused by a severe allergic reaction. During anaphylaxis, a person may experience symptoms including swollen throat, lips or tongue, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, fainting, coughing, wheezing, weak pulse, vomiting, and others. Anaphylaxis, if left untreated, can be fatal, as anaphylaxis causes throat swelling that restricts airflow and deprives the body of oxygen.
Thankfully, the ability of epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis is rather impressive and the effects are immediate. But how does it work? First, epinephrine constricts the blood vessels which decreases swelling. Epinephrine also increases the body’s heart rate and heart contraction rate, helping to prevent cardiovascular collapse. A key benefit of epinephrine is that it relaxes the airways in the lungs, allowing the victim of the attack to breath again. Lastly, epinephrine prevents the spread and release of further additional allergic chemicals, helping to keep the reaction from worsening.
What is an EpiPen?
An EpiPen is the pen-like device used to administer epinephrine, a synthetic form of adrenaline. Allergy sufferers with severe allergies or those who have experienced anaphylaxis before would be well advised to carry an EpiPen with them at all times. An EpiPen should be administered immediately when someone is having a severe allergic reaction. Often, the person will be unable to administer the EpiPen themselves and will need assistance. If you observe someone having an allergic reaction, it is better to be safe than sorry—in other words, it is better to administer the EpiPen immediately than hesitate. During anaphylaxis, every second counts.
To administer an EpiPen, hold the device firmly with your fist. Then swiftly and firmly inject the EpiPen into the patient’s mid to outer thigh area. Rest your hand in place for a few seconds—you want to allow enough time for all the medicine inside the EpiPen to be administered. It is important to note that while an EpiPen may halt an allergic reaction, medical assistance is still needed. 1 in 5 people who experience anaphylaxis may experience a second bout of it, up to a few hours later. Make sure that you call 911 or help locate medical assistance immediately following the administration of the EpiPen.