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The Lifesaver

"What do you never leave at home?" Ask anyone who has experienced anaphylaxis this question, and you'll likely get the same answer. Every. Single. Time. What do you never leave at home? Your epi-pen.

The most frightening thing about anaphylaxis is that it is unpredictable. This is probably one of the most difficult things about having food allergies. You just never know! Your allergic reactions might be mild, with no more than just a couple of hives, and then suddenly, your next reaction might be anaphylactic shock. I don't want to frighten fellow food allergy friends, but I just want to emphasize one thing: epinephrine can literally save your life. Your epi-pen can be the difference between life and death, and it's really no joke.

I actually speak from experience. All my allergic reactions were very mild, with just a few hives and rashes. But I joined the anaphylaxis ranks one fateful day in preschool when I was accidentally given a peanut butter cracker. I bit into it but didn't like it, so I threw it away. But that one bite was enough. I started to show classic signs of anaphylaxis. My preschool director thankfully recognized the signs and administered the epi-pen before I was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. There, I was given even more epinephrine to help stop anaphylaxis in its tracks. It worked, and it transformed my family's understanding of food allergies forever. We finally saw the terrors of the unpredictability of allergic reactions, and we also experienced that sheer relief that we have in our possession, a true lifesaver.

Why is epinephrine so successful? Basically, epinephrine stops anaphylaxis in its tracks. Epinephrine has multiple functions. Epinephrine helps increase blood flow. It also helps to destress muscles in your airways so that breathing may return to normal.

Important: Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis. So many people use antihistamines, such as Benadryl, as the first-line treatment, with a "wait and see" approach. Antihistamines do NOT treat cardiovascular and respiratory manifestations. Why do some people die from anaphylaxis? Often because they did not receive epinephrine in time!

So what should you do? Here are some tips and advice if you are prescribed an epi-pen:

  • Keep your epi-pen ON YOUR BODY at all times. I have a little pouch that can be clipped to my pants, or I carry it in my backpack. That means not leaving the meds in the car.

  • Keep your epi-pen cool at room temperature. Again, no leaving it in the car! (15-30 degrees C or 59-86 degrees F)

  • If you're going out with friends, let them know the signs of anaphylaxis. Let them also know that you have your epi-pen on you.

  • Review how to administer the epi-pen on yourself. My family and I practice with expired epi-pens on oranges. This is a great way to keep up the practice annually!

So what should you never leave at home? Even if you've never experienced anaphylaxis but have food allergies, I hope you're now convinced! Always carry your epi-pen on your body, so it's nearby and handy. The epinephrine injector can be the difference between life and death for us food allergy friends. So don't leave home without it!


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