What is Epinephrine?

When someone with an anaphylactic allergy is having a reaction, your first responsibility is to use their EpiPen. EpiPens slow down the reaction to allow for enough time to reach the hospital. But how exactly does that happen?


Let’s review: What is an anaphylactic reaction?
An anaphylactic reaction occurs when the body of a person with allergies goes into shock. The reaction starts when the body thinks a harmless substance is actually a threatening invader. Say a knife that was used to spread jam onto a piece of toast, was previously used to spread peanut butter somewhere else. The oil from the peanut butter has turned the jam into poison. As someone bites into the toast, the cardiovascular system is immediately affected. It thinks the peanut butter, a food that provides protein and potassium, is actually an invader. The heart will start to beat at a speed faster than Usain Bolt. The muscles will start to contract, and one’s ability to breath will immediately decline. The face will swell and turn the colour of a ripe blueberry and the throat will close. The only chance of surviving is an EpiPen.

 

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Never seen a reaction before? Just picture Will Smith’s character in Hitch…


So…What’s an EpiPen?
An EpiPen is a popular brand of an auto-injector and is used in case of an anaphylactic shock. A small needle injects a dose of hormone, called epinephrine, into the body and temporarily deflates the reaction to the allergen. An EpiPen is administered into the side of the leg at the spot that is exactly a thumb to pointer finger away from the hip and a thumb and pointer finger away from the knee. Once the hormone is injected into the skin, the blood vessels tighten throughout the body. This increases blood flow. As a result, some of the swelling in the body will go down. It also relaxes the muscles. The airways in the lungs will open enough to allow breathing again. Finally, it makes the heart beat faster to prevent cardiac arrest.

 

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What is epinephrine?
Epinephrine is created in small amounts in the body. It is more commonly known as adrenaline. Your body releases it when you experience strong emotions like fear or anger. Have you ever heard of the fight or flight response? This natural reaction occurs when the medulla of the adrenal gland, which is the middle of the gland, releases epinephrine. The medulla releases epinephrine to prepare or reacts to the perceived threat. It increases your heart rate, muscle strength and blood pressure.

Epinephrine is the only drug that acts on so many body systems at once. When an anaphylactic reaction occurs, an EpiPen, or any auto-injector, provides the temporary relief needed to get someone to the hospital.


Why is this important?
In 2009, the price of two EpiPens in the United States was approximately $100. Today, the same will cost consumers around $600. This is an increase of more than 500 percent since 2007. This dramatic increase has left many people struggling to purchase the life-saving device.

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Hope this helps you understand a bit more about an anaphylactic reaction, and how an EpiPen can save a life.

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