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Anaphylactic Shock and Epinephrine (EpiPen and Other Auto-Injectors)

Written by Brendan Levy, MD

Learn how you can save a life by preventing a serious allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock.

Why do I need to know about anaphylactic shock?

If you or someone close to you has severe allergies or is at risk for anaphylactic shock it’s important to learn how to identify it and how to treat it so you can act quickly if it ever happens. When you recognize the signs of anaphylactic shock you do three things:

  • Call 911
  • Seek emergency medical attention and follow your first aid training.
  • Use an epinephrine auto-injector if you have one - using it quickly can prevent death due to anaphylactic shock.

That’s why it’s critical to learn about it ahead of time!

What are the signs of anaphylactic shock?

Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock is a serious allergic reaction that can happen quickly (minutes to hours) and can cause death. This dangerous allergic reaction can cause:

  • Throat, tongue, or mouth swelling (which can prevent normal breathing / choke off your airway)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting repeatedly
  • Lightheadedness
  • Passing out or fainting
  • Low blood pressure and fast heart rate
  • Looking very pale and weak
  • Confusion

What can trigger anaphylactic shock?

Anaphylactic shock is usually caused by insect bites bees and stings (e.g. bee stings), foods (e.g. peanuts), and medicines. Sometimes heat, cold, exercise, or other things can cause it as well.

Why does your body go into anaphylactic shock?

Your immune system usually protects your body, sometimes by releasing inflammatory chemicals to help destroy germs (pathogens) like disease causing bacteria. Sometimes your immune system can overreact to the wrong stuff (bee stings, peanuts, etc) and cause an immune reaction that is way too strong. That is what leads to allergic reactions. One of the most severe types of allergic reaction is called anaphylactic shock and it is life threatening.

How do I use an EpiPen or another epinephrine auto-injector?

The exact details of how to use each auto-injector vary but there are videos online and instructions with each device. They are made to be simple to use and if you believe that there is risk for anaphylaxis you should give the epinephrine right away — before anaphylaxis causes death.

Learn how to use these devices using these videos and the instructions that come with them.

Also remember that a serious allergic reaction can happen at any time, so it is important to always carry an epinephrine injector with you. You should leave an epinephrine injector at home, work, and other places you might need it. Always make sure to discuss your serious allergic reactions with your primary care doctor ahead of time so they can help you learn how to recognize and prevent deadly anaphylactic shock.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HeyDoctor, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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