Allergies: Giving yourself an epinephrine shot

Introduction

If you have had a severe allergic reaction in the past, you know how frightening it can be. Symptoms of breathing difficulty, itching, and swelling can come on quickly and become life-threatening. Giving yourself an epinephrine shot can slow down or stop an allergic reaction. That's why it is important to have an allergy kit containing an epinephrine shot with you at all times and to know the right way to use it: It could save your life someday.

 

There are some important things to think about before you give the shot:

  • The shot does not replace the need to be seen by a doctor. After giving yourself a shot, seek emergency care. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can return or get worse after an epinephrine shot.
  • An epinephrine shot should only be injected into the side of the thigh. Do not give the shot into a buttock or a vein.
  • Learn the signs that indicate a severe allergic reaction. If you feel them coming on, act quickly.

It is also important to:

  • Keep an allergy kit with you at all times. Many people keep one at home and one at work or school.
  • Keep two epinephrine shots in each kit in case a second shot is needed.
  • Always wear a medical alert bracelet to let others know about your allergies.
  • Teach your family, friends, and coworkers how to give you a shot in case you need help.

Test Your Knowledge

After I have given myself the shot, I can just go about my business.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Giving yourself a shot does not replace the need to be seen by a doctor. After giving the shot, seek emergency medical care. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can return or get worse after an epinephrine shot.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Giving yourself a shot does not replace the need to be seen by a doctor. After giving the shot, seek emergency medical care. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can return or get worse after an epinephrine shot.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

An epinephrine shot can slow down or stop your allergic reaction. Epinephrine prevents your body from releasing the chemicals that cause an allergic reaction. Epinephrine relieves wheezing, breathing difficulties, and itching from hives. It helps keep blood pressure within a normal range and also reduces swelling that can occur in your hands, feet, eyelids, tongue, and throat.

If you have had a serious allergic reaction in the past, your risk of having another is high. But people react differently when they are exposed to the allergen that causes their allergic reaction. It is important to get clear instructions from your doctor on when you should give yourself an epinephrine shot.

An epinephrine shot comes as an automatic injector that is prefilled with one shot of epinephrine. It is made to be quick and simple to use.

Take care of your epinephrine shot:

  • To protect it from light, keep the epinephrine shot in the tube provided until you are ready to use it.
  • Store epinephrine shot at room temperature—15°C (59°F) to 30°C (86°F). Do not refrigerate.
  • Check the expiration dates of the medicines in the allergy kit, and replace them as needed.
  • Check the medicine in the epinephrine shot. It should be clear. If the solution is pinkish brown or has solid particles in it, the epinephrine shot should be replaced.

Test Your Knowledge

I should keep my allergy kit in my car so it is always handy.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    To work properly, epinephrine needs to be kept at room temperature. A car can get too hot. A better idea would be to keep one kit in your purse, briefcase, or backpack; one at home; and one at work or school.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    To work properly, epinephrine needs to be kept at room temperature. A car can get too hot. A better idea would be to keep one kit in your purse, briefcase, or backpack; one at home; and one at work or school.

  •  

Continue to How?

 
  1. Grasp the epinephrine shot injector in one fist with the black tip pointing down. Do not touch the black tip.
  2. With the other hand, pull off the gray cap.
  3. Hold the black tip close to your outer thigh. Swing and jab the black tip into your outer thigh (through clothing if necessary). The injector should be at a 90-degree angle to your thigh.
  4. Keep the injector in your outer thigh while you slowly count to 5.
  5. Remove the injector and rub the area where the medicine entered your skin.
  6. Look at the black tip: If the needle is showing, you received the dose. If not, you need to repeat steps 3 through 5. It is normal for most of the liquid to be left in the injector. Do not try to inject the remaining liquid.
  7. After the shot, press the needle against a hard surface to bend the needle back. Put the injector back in its case, needle first. Do not put the gray activation cap back on the injector.
  8. Take the antihistamine tablet in your allergy kit.

You should feel the effects of the medicine almost right away. These will include a rapid heartbeat and nervousness as well as improved breathing. The benefits of the shot usually last 10 to 20 minutes.

In some severe cases, you may need to give a second shot. Your doctor will explain when a second shot is needed. Make sure you understand, and ask questions if you are not sure. Too much epinephrine can cause serious side effects, such as difficulty breathing.

Test Your Knowledge

I don't like the idea of giving myself a shot. If I have an allergic reaction, I can just go to the hospital.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    You have been prescribed an allergy kit because you are at risk for a dangerous allergic reaction. Symptoms can come on within seconds and quickly become life-threatening. If you have a reaction, you cannot wait until you get to a hospital to be treated. You must give yourself the shot right away. Luckily, giving the shot is easy.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    You have been prescribed an allergy kit because you are at risk for a dangerous allergic reaction. Symptoms can come on within seconds and quickly become life-threatening. If you have a reaction, you cannot wait until you get to a hospital to be treated. You must give yourself the shot right away. Luckily, giving the shot is easy.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

If you have any questions about giving an epinephrine shot or about when to give a second shot, discuss them with your doctor. It is important to know how to administer an epinephrine shot before you need it.

For more information about allergic reactions, see the topics:

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Last Updated: March 9, 2009

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