Q: My child was just diagnosed with food allergies. Our doctor prescribed us an EpiPen in case of an emergency. The thought of having to use it, though, kind of scares me. How do I know when to use this and how do I administer it?
A: In an average room of 20 kids, one or more of them will have a food allergy. While some allergic reactions may be mild, other reactions like anaphylaxis may be more serious and even life-threatening.
Due to the unpredictable nature of allergic reactions, self-injectable epinephrine (Epi), such as EpiPens, often is prescribed. Epi injectors deliver medicine quickly and effectively. It is important that children with significant food allergies have an action plan in place in case of an emergency so that you and others know when and how to administer this medication.
To use Epi, take the injector out of its case and remove the cap, being careful to avoid pressing either end of the device. The needle end is orange and does not have a safety cap over it. Make sure your child is sitting or lying down and then find the big muscle in his or her thigh. Hold the leg steadily while you press the orange part of the injector firmly against the thigh. You should hear and feel a click when you do this. Hold the device firmly against the leg for 10 seconds. If you haven’t already called 911, do it now.
Sometimes symptoms develop gradually and it is tempting to keep on waiting. Many parents also worry that the dose of epinephrine will hurt their child if the child doesn’t need it. But remember: No child has ever had serious problems from a standard dose of self-injectable epinephrine.
The longer you wait to administer epinephrine to someone who is experiencing anaphylaxis, the harder it is to stop the reaction — and these cases can progress quickly from mild to severe.
—Daniel J. Scherzer, M.D., is an attending physician in the Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.