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If your child has a severe allergy, he could also have a sudden and often dangerous reaction called anaphylaxis. The good news is that his doctor can prescribe an easy-to-give drug called epinephrine that can delay symptoms and buy time in an emergency.

The trick is to know what to do with it when you need it. 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," he says.

If you aren't sure someone is having an anaphylactic reaction, use the injector anyway. "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 auto-injectors do expire. So check the dates before you buy or use them. (Most companies offer a reminder system if you register the injector after you pick it up from the pharmacy.)

Children with a history of severe food allergies should carry at least two self-injectors, because two offer greater protection in an emergency, one study shows.

Epinephrine Training Injectors

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

Although it doesn’t have a needle or any medication, the training pen lets you feel the pressure it takes to make the real thing work. You can ask your child’s doctor how to get one.

Be Prepared

"Let your child’s teacher know that if they’re thinking about using the injection, they should use it," Eden says. And don’t worry if the kid doesn’t need the shot. There’s no medical downside to that. "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 pen is stored in his classroom.
  • Keep an instruction card with pen. It should state that injections can be given through clothing, which saves time in an emergency.