If your child has allergies that are extremely severe, your doctor may have prescribed an epi-pen. Obviously, you should listen as the doctor instructs you how and when to use this lifesaving device. However, after you leave the doctor’s office, you may find yourself with some questions. There are many things that a parent should know about epi-pens.
Just to make things absolutely clear, when I use the phrase “epi-pen” I am referring to a device that has also been called an epinephrine injector, or an EpiPen auto-injector. The device itself looks very similar to a thick pen, hence the name. This is something that must be prescribed by a doctor, and cannot be picked up as over the counter medication. Each epi-pen contains a single dose of epinephrine.
It is a first line treatment for allergic emergencies, particularly when someone is experiencing anaphylaxis. It is often prescribed for children or adults who have severe allergies to food, (such as peanuts or shellfish), stinging and biting insects, (like bees, hornets, or wasps), medicines, latex, or other things. If your child goes into anaphylaxis, you will want to make sure that an epi-pen is nearby, and is used right away. To use it, you press the epi-pen against the outer thigh of the person who is experiencing anaphylaxis. It can be used directly through whatever clothing the person is wearing.
Does your child’s school allow epi-pens? Legislators in Illinois are working on passing a law called the Illinois School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. Not every state will have a similar law, so you should check with your child’s school in order to be certain if your child will have access to his or her epi-pen in case an emergency happens.
Epi-pens have an expiration date. Mine lasts for a year, and then I need to replace it if I have not used it. There is a window on the side of the epi-pen that should show a clear liquid. If that liquid turns cloudy or discolored, then the epi-pen is no longer useable. Now is the time to call your doctor, and get a prescription for a new one.
The best way to dispose of an expired epi-pen is to take it back to a pharmacy. Most pharmacies will have a sharps container that is designed to hold used syringes. Since you are probably at the pharmacy in order to pick up a new epi-pen, it makes it easy for you to ask the pharmacist if you can dispose of your expired epi-pen by putting it into the sharps container.
Although they may appear to be, epi-pens are not waterproof. This means if it gets dropped into a swimming pool or lake it may not be useful anymore. Epi-pens should be stored at room temperature. If you store one in your car, and the inside of the car becomes too warm, it could cause the epi-pen to become less effective, or to malfunction.
Image by Adam Campbell on Flickr