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Treating Life-Threatening Allergies

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that needs emergency medical treatment. It can happen in seconds or even hours after contact with something you’re allergic to, like foods, insect venom, latex, or medication. In rare cases, exercise and physical activity also can trigger anaphylaxis.

Call 911 immediately if you think someone has symptoms of anaphylaxis. These may include:

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  • Hoarseness
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Wheezing, or trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Hives
  • Swollen eyes or lips
  • Runny nose
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain or diarrhea
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety

If the person has an epinephrine injector, don’t wait to use it. The drug will stop symptoms for a few minutes, but it isn’t a cure. Call 911, even if he seems to be OK after getting the epinephrine.

How to Use an Epinephrine Injector

Epinephrine is a strong, fast-acting medication. It’s given with an easy-to-use auto-injector and is available by prescription only.

  1. Inject the drug at the first sign of a reaction and call 911 right away. Don’t move the person unless he’s in an unsafe place.
  2. Have him sit down, lie down, or stay in the most comfortable position for breathing.
  3. Stay calm.
  4. Be aware that epinephrine may cause short-term symptoms that are like those of anaphylaxis.
  5. If an insect stinger is present, remove it with a gentle brushing motion. Don’t pinch the stinger. That could release more venom.
  6. Listen and watch to make sure he’s breathing.
  7. If you’re trained in CPR, give it if needed. If he has asthma as well as allergies, you can give him his inhaler, but only after he’s had the epinephrine.
  8. You can give a second shot of epinephrine if symptoms don’t go away.

Tips for Life With an Auto-Injector

  • Keep the device in a dark place and at room temperature.
  • Check the expiration date regularly. If expired, replace it. But remember, it's better to use expired epinephrine in an emergency than nothing at all.
  • If the auto-injector has a window, check the liquid. If it isn’t clear, replace the unit.
  • Have more than one auto-injector available at all times. Stash one at home and carry one with you. Take one to school, if your child has allergies. Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.
  • If your child has allergies, write an anaphylaxis emergency action plan for his teachers and other adults he spends time with. Be certain that the school nurse stores and uses epinephrine properly.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on December 22, 2014

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