Understanding Allergy Pens: Epinephrine Use and Safety Guide

Wyndly Care Team
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How does an allergy pen work?

An allergy pen, also known as an epinephrine autoinjector, works by injecting a measured dose of epinephrine into the person's thigh muscle. Epinephrine works rapidly to increase blood pressure, stimulate the heart, reverse hives, and reduce swelling in the airways during an allergic reaction.

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What Is an Allergy Pen?

An allergy pen, also known as an epinephrine auto-injector, is a medical device designed to administer a specific dose of epinephrine. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is a hormone that can help reverse severe allergic reactions, such as those caused by food allergies, insect stings, or certain medications.

About Epinephrine: The Active Ingredient in Allergy Pens

Epinephrine is the active ingredient in allergy pens. It's a potent sympathomimetic drug that rapidly counteracts the effects of severe allergic reactions. It works by narrowing blood vessels and opening airways in the lungs, thereby stemming the allergic reaction. In severe cases, where a person experiences anaphylaxis, an allergy pen can be life-saving. It's important to note that epinephrine should only be used in an emergency and is not a substitute for immediate medical or hospital care. After using an allergy pen, seek immediate medical attention. For more information about allergic reactions and their management, refer to this guide from Wyndly.

When Should an Allergy Pen Be Used?

An allergy pen should be used during a severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis. The pen delivers a dose of epinephrine to quickly counteract the symptoms of anaphylaxis, which can include difficulty breathing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.

Indications for Using an Allergy Pen

Allergy pens are typically prescribed to individuals who have a known severe allergy, whether it's to food, insect stings, latex, or certain medications. If you experience symptoms such as hives, swelling of the lips or throat, difficulty breathing, or a rapid heartbeat after exposure to an allergen, an allergy pen should be used immediately. It's also crucial to have an action plan in place, which should include calling emergency services right after using an allergy pen, even if symptoms seem to improve.

If you're unsure whether you need an allergy pen, consider getting an allergy test. Identifying your allergies can help guide your treatment plan, which may include carrying an allergy pen. While mild allergies can often be managed with prescription allergy medicines, severe allergies require more immediate action, for which an allergy pen is usually recommended.

How Should an Allergy Pen Be Used?

An allergy pen, typically loaded with epinephrine, should be used as soon as signs of a severe allergic reaction are recognized. Correct usage involves removing any safety caps, pressing the device against the outer thigh, and holding it in place to allow the medication to be injected.

First, make sure to hold the pen with the orange tip pointing downwards. Remove the blue safety cap by pulling it straight up without bending or twisting it. After that, swing and firmly push the orange tip against the outer thigh until the pen clicks. This indicates that the injection has started.

Keep holding the pen against the thigh for about 10 seconds to ensure the full dose is delivered. After using the allergy pen, immediately seek medical help. Even if symptoms seem to have improved, a follow-up treatment is often needed.

It's essential for anyone with a severe allergy to be well-versed in using their allergy pen, as it can be a lifesaving device. However, it's also crucial to remember that an allergy pen is not a long-term solution. For ongoing management of allergies, a treatment plan may include options like allergen-specific immunotherapy or sublingual immunotherapy allergy tablets.

What Precautions Should Be Taken When Using an Allergy Pen?

When using an allergy pen, it's essential to follow the instructions carefully and be aware of potential risks and precautions. This includes understanding the safety information, being aware of possible interactions with other medications, and knowing what to do in case of an overdose.

Important Safety Information

The allergy pen should not be injected into a vein, buttock, fingers, toes, hands, or feet. These areas have sensitive tissues and blood vessels that could be damaged by the injection. Also, do not remove the blue safety cap until you are ready to use the pen. Once used, seek immediate medical attention, even if symptoms seem to have improved.

Interactions with Other Medications

Before using an allergy pen, inform your healthcare provider if you are taking any other medications, vitamins, or supplements. Certain drugs may interact with epinephrine, affecting its effectiveness or causing adverse effects. It's crucial to maintain open communication with your healthcare provider to ensure the safe use of the allergy pen.

What to Do in Case of Overdose

In the event of a suspected overdose—such as if the pen is accidentally injected or more than the recommended dose is used—immediately seek medical attention. Overdose symptoms may include rapid breathing, severe headache, irregular heartbeat, and extreme nervousness. Remember, an allergy pen is a temporary solution. For long-term allergy management, consider options like allergy immunotherapy.

What Are the Side Effects of an Allergy Pen?

While an allergy pen is a life-saving tool for severe allergic reactions, it's not without potential side effects. Most commonly, users may experience rapid heart rate, feelings of anxiety, restlessness, dizziness, and/or shaky hands.

Immediate side effects can include increased heart rate, anxiousness, and a feeling of being “shaky.” Prolonged use may lead to more severe side effects such as irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, or even heart attack. It’s essential to inform your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of these.

Moreover, the injection site may exhibit redness, swelling, or bruising. These are generally mild and temporary but should still be monitored. Remember, an allergy pen is a temporary measure and should not replace long-term allergy management strategies, such as allergy immunotherapy.

Lastly, it's worth noting that some individuals may have an allergic reaction to the epinephrine itself, although this is rare. If you suspect you're having an allergic reaction to the medication, seek medical attention immediately. For a definitive allergy diagnosis, you may consider undergoing a skin allergy test.

How Should an Allergy Pen Be Stored and Disposed Of?

Correct storage and disposal of an allergy pen are crucial to its effectiveness and safety. For storage, keep it at room temperature, away from light and extreme temperatures. Never store it in a refrigerator or a car's glove box.


The allergy pen should be stored in its original protective tube until it's needed. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight, as this could degrade the epinephrine. Extreme heat or cold can also damage the device, so it should be kept at room temperature - not in a refrigerator or a car's glove box. Moreover, check the expiration date regularly and replace it when necessary.


Disposing of an allergy pen should be done responsibly. After use, the pen should be placed in a safe container and taken to a local pharmacy or hospital for proper disposal. Do not attempt to reuse the pen or dispose of it in regular household trash.

Remember, an allergy pen is a crucial part of managing severe allergic reactions, but it's not a permanent solution. For long-term relief from pollen allergies, consider strategies such as allergy immunotherapy. This treatment can help reduce your sensitivity to allergens and decrease your reliance on emergency medications like the allergy pen.

Live Allergy-Free with Wyndly

If you want long-term relief from your allergies, Wyndly can help. Our doctors will help you identify your allergy triggers and create a personalized treatment plan to get you the lifelong relief you deserve. Start by taking our quick online allergy assessment today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I buy an EpiPen over the counter?

No, you cannot buy an EpiPen over the counter. EpiPens are prescribed medications used to treat severe allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis. You must have a prescription from a healthcare provider to obtain an EpiPen. It's crucial to properly use it under medical guidance.

What is the alternative to the EpiPen?

Alternative options to the EpiPen include the Auvi-Q, which provides vocal instructions and is compact in size, and the generic version of Adrenaclick, which is more affordable. Both are auto-injectors with epinephrine, the same life-saving medication found in EpiPens. Always consult a healthcare provider for options.

What are the side effects of an EpiPen?

Side effects of an EpiPen include palpitations, rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea and vomiting, respiratory difficulty, and pale skin. More severe reactions can involve chest pain, dizziness, headache, and weakness. In rare cases, an EpiPen can cause a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

How do you know if you're allergic to penicillin?

To determine if you're allergic to penicillin, a doctor will typically perform a skin test. This involves pricking the skin and applying a small amount of penicillin. If you're allergic, you'll develop a skin reaction. In some cases, additional tests may be required for a definitive diagnosis.

How long do EpiPen symptoms last?

The effects of an EpiPen, which delivers a dose of epinephrine to counteract a severe allergic reaction, typically last for about 15 to 20 minutes. It's crucial to seek medical attention immediately after using an EpiPen, as symptoms may return once the medication wears off.

Is an EpiPen just Benadryl?

No, an EpiPen is not just Benadryl. An EpiPen is an auto-injector that contains epinephrine, a medication that can reverse severe allergic reactions. It works by opening airways and constricting blood vessels. Benadryl, on the other hand, is an antihistamine used to relieve mild allergy symptoms.

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