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Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe allergic reaction. An injection of a medicine called epinephrine could delay the symptoms of that reaction, buying time in an emergency.

But many people who carry a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector don't know how to use it, says pediatrician Scott H. Sicherer, MD, author of Understanding and Managing Your Child's Food Allergies.

"Have the physician review with you not only when to use it -- in other words, what symptoms to use it for -- but how to use it," Sicherer says.

If you aren't sure that someone is having an anaphylactic reaction, "it's always better to err on the side of giving it if you're not sure what to do," Sicherer says. "In some cases, you may need more than one shot."

Epinephrine injectors do expire. So check the expiration dates before you buy or use them. (Most companies offer a reminder system if you register.)

Don't store these injectors in extreme temperatures, such as in a refrigerator, in a car, or in direct sunlight. Keeping it on you should keep it in the right temperature range, Sicherer says.

Children with a history of severe food allergies should carry at least two doses of self-injectable epinephrine, because two can offer greater protection in an emergency.

Epinephrine Training Injectors

Kat Eden, who lives in San Carlos, Calif., makes sure her son always has an epinephrine injection with him. She also brought a training injector to her son’s school, in order to teach his teachers and the staff how to use it.

Although it does not include a needle or any medication, the training injector simulates the pressure required to activate the epinephrine in a real injector. You can ask your child’s pediatrician about how to get a training injector.

Be Prepared

"Let your child’s teacher know that if they’re thinking about using the injection, they should use it," Eden says, adding that if the injection is given but your child didn’t really need it, there’s usually no medical downside. "But if they don’t use the injection and your child needs it, there’s the possibility of a terrible tragedy."

Eden also advises parents to:

  • Make sure your child knows exactly where the injector is stored in their classroom.
  • Keep an instruction card with the injector. The card should mention that injections can be given through a child’s clothing, saving time in an emergency.

Traveling With an Epinephrine Injection

If you're at risk for anaphylaxis, you need to be prepared at all times, including when you're traveling.

When flying, bring extra epinephrine injectors and carry them with you at all times.

You should be able to bring them onboard the plane, as long as you have a letter signed by a doctor.

Where to Keep Epinephrine Injections

  • At home, in a safe and convenient location
  • In your purse or attached to your car keys
  • In your child's school bag
  • In your child's classroom, day care, or on campgrounds
  • In your carry-on luggage when you fly
  • At a relative's house or anywhere else your child spends a lot of time