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Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Epinephrine for Out-of-Hospital Treatment of Anaphylaxis

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For management of a serious (even life-threatening) allergic reaction, I have been teaching adults to administer epinephrine (adrenaline) by injection for years. This can be a lifesaving intervention. The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) community now concurs that EMS personnel should be trained to recognize a serious allergic reaction and be allowed to administer epinephrine. In a recent issue of the journal Prehospital Emergency Care (2011;15:570-576), there is an article by Jacobsen and Millin entitled "The Use of Epinephrine for Out-of-Hospital Treatment of Anaphylaxis: Resource Document for the National Association of EMS Physicians Position Statement" that details the use of epinephrine for this purpose.

The major new thrust of this document is to highlight the fact that the intramuscular (IM, directly into the muscle) injection route of administration is preferred, rather than the traditional primary recommendation to inject into the tissue space just under the skin layers ("subcutaneous"). This is because injection into the muscle tissue results in smoother and more reliable drug absorption, with higher peak therapeutic levels of the drug achieved sooner than with subcutaneous injection. The lateral thigh is often used for the IM injection; the outer upper arm is most commonly used for the subcutaneous injection. In an "autoinjector pen" used to administer epinephrine (often referred to by the brand name “EpiPen”), the needle may not be long enough to reach the muscle tissue of a large and/or obese person. However, if the epinephrine is injected into the subcutaneous tissue, it will in all likelihood still be effective, albeit perhaps not as quickly following the injection.

Here is advice about how to give epinephrine for a severe allergic reaction:

Administer aqueous epinephrine (adrenaline) 1:1,000 in an intramuscular or subcutaneous injection (depending on the depth obtained by the needle). The adult dose is 0.3 to 0.5 mL; the pediatric dose is 0.01 mL/kg of body weight, not to exceed a total dose of 0.3 mL. For weight estimation, 1 kg equals 2.2 lb. The drug is available in preloaded syringes in certain allergy kits, which include the EpiPen autoinjector and EpiPen Jr. autoinjector, the Twinject autoinjector (0.3 mg or 0.15 mg doses; 2 doses per unit), and the Ana-Kit. Instructions for use accompany the kits. The EpiPen and Twinject epinephrine products are generally easier for laypeople to use, because they require less dexterity to accomplish injection with them. The Twinject autoinjector and Ana-Kit syringe are configured with enough epinephrine for a second (repeat) dose, which is sometimes necessary. The Twinject is a true autoinjector for the first dose; the second dose is delivered as a routine injection from a concealed syringe and needle.

For dosing purposes, the EpiPen and Twinject 0.3 mg autoinjector should be used for adults and children over 66 lb (30 kg) in weight. Children 66 lb and under should be injected with the EpiPen Jr. or Twinject 0.15 mg autoinjector.

Take particular care to handle preloaded syringes properly, to avoid inadvertent injection into a finger or toe. Do not intentionally inject epinephrine into the buttocks or a vein. Epinephrine should not be exposed to heat or sun, but does not need to be kept refrigerated. If clear (liquid) epinephrine turns brown, it should be discarded. When administering an injection, never share needles between people.

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Tags: Bites & Stings , Products , Staying Safe

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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