A guide to EpiPen for allergies
EpiPens are a type of epinephrine auto-injector. These are life-saving devices that provide a rapid injection of epinephrine, a synthetic form of adrenaline.
Epinephrine can reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening.
What allergies need an EpiPen?
EpiPens help manage anaphylaxis, which a large variety of allergens can trigger.
According to the EpiPen prescribing information document, you can use these injections for anaphylaxis resulting from any allergen, including:
- Food allergies, such as peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and eggs
- Insect stings and bites, such as bees, wasps, fire ants, and mosquitoes
- Medications, such as antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and color injections used for radiology testing
- Other allergies, such as latex or exercise-induced symptoms
Does an EpiPen work for any allergy?
EpiPens work by providing immediate relief from severe allergic reactions. They do not treat the underlying allergy.
This means that EpiPens are not allergy-specific. You can use an EpiPen to treat anaphylaxis no matter the cause of it.
How does an EpiPen work?
EpiPens contain a pre-measured dose of epinephrine, a hormone that affects alpha- and beta-adrenergic receptors in your body. This quickly causes a range of effects to manage acute allergic reactions, including:
- narrowing of blood vessels to prevent a drop in blood pressure
- expansion of the airways to make it easier to breathe
- relief of itching and swelling
- relaxation of smooth muscles in the stomach, intestines, uterus, and bladder to prevent digestive and urinary symptoms
EpiPens are not a substitute for allergy management. They are a temporary emergency measure to stabilize the situation until medical help arrives.
Is an EpiPen the same as Benadryl?
No, an EpiPen is not the same as Benadryl (diphenhydramine).
Benadryl is an antihistamine that can help relieve mild to moderate allergy symptoms, such as itching and hives.
While it can be a useful addition to allergy management, it is not a substitute for an EpiPen in cases of severe allergic reactions.
If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.
When should you use an EpiPen?
You should use an EpiPen on yourself or someone else for symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. Timely use can be life-saving.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology explains that these symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur within minutes after exposure to the allergen.
- flushing or redness
- rash or hives
- swelling of the eyes and lips
- trouble breathing
- chest or throat tightness
- hoarse voice or difficulty talking
- rapid heart rate or weak pulse
- blue color
- difficulty swallowing or drooling
- a feeling of unease, anxiety, or fear
- stomach cramps
If you or someone else is experiencing these symptoms, immediately administer an EpiPen or other type of epinephrine auto-injector, then call 911 for emergency medical attention.
How do you use an EpiPen?
Using an EpiPen is relatively straightforward, but it’s best to familiarize yourself with the process before you need it.
You can view a video guide on the EpiPen website here.
For people with the potential for anaphylaxis, doctors recommend carrying two EpiPens or similar epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times. This is in case the first injector does not work properly or if the person with symptoms does not respond to the first shot.
Here are the general steps:
- Check the EpiPen: Check that the medication is clear, there is no damage to the auto-injector, and the blue safety cap is not raised.
- Prepare the EpiPen: Remove the injector from the protective case and take off the blue safety cap. Hold the EpiPen firmly in your hand, with the orange tip pointing downward.
- Prepare to inject: Place the orange needle end against the outer thigh — you may use it through clothing if necessary. If administering to a young child, hold them firmly in place.
- Inject the medication: Push down firmly and hold for 3 seconds. Listen for a pop sound, which means the EpiPen has successfully and automatically injected the epinephrine. After the pop, hold down for another 3 seconds.
- Remove the EpiPen: Lift the auto-injector straight out from the thigh.
After using the EpiPen, call 911 for emergency medical attention, even if the symptoms improve.
If the symptoms do not improve or return, you can use a second EpiPen.
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What happens if you use an EpiPen when you don’t need it?
Anyone who has used an EpiPen should seek immediate medical care — no matter if it was used in response to anaphylaxis or not.
While its anti-anaphylaxis effects can be life-saving, the high dose of epinephrine can cause a range of side effects in anyone who uses it, whether or not they needed to use it.
The EpiPen prescribing information document lists the possible side effects, which include:
- Drug interactions: The injection can interact with other medications, including some antidepressants, heart medications, diuretics, thyroid medications, and antihistamines.
- Injection site infections: The injection may cause subsequent infections when bacteria from clothing or skin are introduced with the needle.
- Heart reactions: Epinephrine may cause chest pain, fast or irregular heartbeat, and a sudden rise in blood pressure, which can cause bleeding in the brain.
- Injection site reactions: The injection site can feel cold and numb and look pale and bruised. If accidentally injected into hands, feet, fingers, or toes, blood flow can be restricted.
Despite these potential adverse effects, you should not hesitate to use an epinephrine auto-injector if you think you or someone with you is experiencing anaphylaxis.
How much do EpiPens cost?
The cost of EpiPens can vary, and the price of generic epinephrine auto-injectors can be significantly lower than a brand-name EpiPen.
Data from 2016 showed an average wholesale price of $730.33 for a 2-pack EpiPen or EpiPen Jr., used for children who weigh 33–66 pounds (15–30 kg). Generic options ranged from $375 to $494 for a 2-pack.
|Drug Name||Dose||Lowest Optum Perks Price|
|EpiPen||.3mg/0.3mL||$637 per 2-pack|
|EpiPen Jr.||.15mg/0.3mL||$637 per 2-pack|
|Epinephrine auto-injector (generic)||.3mg/0.3mL||$249 per 2-pack|
|Epinephrine auto-injector (generic)||.15mg/0.3mL||$127 per 2-pack|
A prescribing doctor can discuss individual EpiPen costs based on your insurance coverage and local pharmacy prices. They can also provide guidance on ways to make your EpiPen prescription more affordable.
How to save money on EipPens
To save money on EpiPens, consider the following:
- Generic alternatives: Generic epinephrine auto-injectors are often more affordable than brand-name EpiPens and contain the same medication.
- Manufacturer’s coupons: The manufacturer of EpiPen offers savings cards for both brand-name EpiPens and generic epinephrine auto-injectors. Eligible patients can save up to $300 on an EpiPen 2-pack and up to $25 on the authorized generic.
- Prescription drug discount coupons: A free coupon from Optum Perks can bring the cost for a two-pack of brand-name EpiPens down to $637 and the cost of a two-pack generic version down to $249. (Prices may vary by location.)
- Insurance coverage: Check with your insurance provider to understand your coverage and whether you can obtain EpiPens or generic alternatives at a reduced cost.
EpiPens and their generic epinephrine auto-injector alternatives can save lives in allergic reaction emergencies.
They provide rapid relief from anaphylaxis symptoms, including difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and weak pulse. You can use an EpiPen for anaphylaxis no matter what caused the allergic reaction.
If you or a loved one has a severe allergy, talk with your doctor to learn when and how to use an EpiPen. A healthcare professional can also provide guidance on savings to make the cost of EpiPens more affordable.
Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.
- Anaphylaxis. (2020). https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/anaphylaxis
- Benadryl - diphenhydramine hydrochloride tablet, film coated. (2023). https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=702f9786-7ce9-43e4-921d-e1db09612127
- Highlights of prescribing information. (2023). https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/fda/fdaDrugXsl.cfm?type=display&setid=7560c201-9246-487c-a13b-6295db04274a
- About EPIPEN® (epinephrine injection, USP) and the Epinephrine Injection, USP Auto-Injectors. (n.d.). https://www.epipen.com/en/about-epipen-and-generic
- Patel N, et al. (2021). Use of multiple epinephrine doses in anaphylaxis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8588837/
- Westermann-Clark E, et al. (2018). Economic considerations in the treatment of systemic allergic reactions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016598/