Something Serious: Severe Allergies, EpiPens, and What to Do

*Warning* if you are squeamish at the talk of needles, serious allergic reactions, or any other miscellaneous thing(s) that might be discussed when an emergency room is described, you may want to stop reading now. [P.S. This will probably be a long-ish post].

Still with me? Cool beans, let’s talk about…not dying.

So, I was definitely going to post today about a neat writer’s workshop/book signing that I went to recently. It was super awesome. I really wanted to tell you about the writers I met (which I will do in a future post coming soon), but then last night happened.

I’m not sure what it is, but it seems that I have made it my life’s mission to visit an emergency room every time I go on vacation. Apparently it’s just a thing with me. If you follow my blog and/or have read quite a few of my past posts, you might know that I have A LOT of allergies. But, strangely enough, none of those gazillion allergies sent me to the ER. Nope, it was wood chips and a dog.

I think.

I really don’t know what happened, just that my ears began to burn and in a matter of five minutes (while I was driving and simultaneously freaking out) I was covered from head to toe in hives. If you don’t know exactly what hives look like, you can Google image them, but faint-hearted people beware; they’re not fun.  In fact, they can be extraordinarily dangerous. Luckily, I did not have to use my EpiPen, but I still looked like a bright red monster from one of the  Goosebumps novels.

So, what did the nurses do? Well, they tried to give me an I.V. (tried being the key word) and after wiggling a needle in my arm for WAY TOO LONG (I also happen to be terrified of needles–the kind of terror where you just kind of stop breathing. Oops.) the nurses decided to try my hand, which hurt even worse. By a lot. I highly suggest having large veins, it saves time, trouble, and a lot of pain.

It’s not my fault I have small veins!

Just kidding, they’re not small…they don’t exist at all! This is my roundabout way of telling you that I’m a vampire. SURPRISE!!!

So the nurses finally ended up giving me two shots (which they couldn’t have done earlier? I’m not bitter) and I was able to return home at a reasonable time.

Great story, right?

The point of all of this–and what I really want to talk to you about in this post–is what a severe allergic reaction looks like, what an EpiPen is, and how to administer it to yourself or someone else. I’ve already given most of my friends a mini-demonstration on how to do this, and I think that it’s super important (especially with so many people having these reactions now) that as many people as possible  have a general, basic understanding of what to do in this situation.

Like a mini, un-certified CPR class, only not. Because this isn’t about CPR. Digression, sorry.

What does a sever allergic reaction look like?

These come in all different shapes, sizes, and severities. Suzy might get hives all over her body while Herald may get severely sick to his stomach. There really isn’t one way to tell if something is having  an allergic reaction. I am going to be specifically talking about anaphylactic shock, the worst kind of allergic reaction, and the most dangerous.

This is when the throat closes off due to hives blocking the airways caused by the body’s release of histamine in order to prevent/block the invader (or the “thing” the person is allergic to: food, medication, insect poison, etc.) from getting into the body. Typically, anaphylaxis begins with an itchy throat and rapidly becomes extremely severe .

For me, I can tell immediately after I’ve eaten something I’m allergic to that I’m beginning anaphylaxis. The reaction is not always the same for everyone, but I’m going to describe what I experience so that you might be able to tell better next time you see something like this.

My throat and tongue begin to scratch, giving me the urge to clear my throat. Hives then begin to spread to my lips and down my throat (on the outside), while my airways slowly begin to close.

At this point, an EpiPen must be administered immediately.

What is an EpiPen?

An EpiPen is a shot that immediately releases epinephrine into the body. It looks like this–

and comes in two sizes: one for adults and one for children. Epinephrine is the only drug known to stop the swelling of hives that block the airways. Thus, it must be given to the person having a reaction as soon as possible. While it does help the person breathe, it can also have dangerous side effects because it causes rapid heart beat. It is not to be given intravenously (a.k.a. directly into the blood stream).

How do I administer an EpiPen?

Luckily, administering an EpiPen is pretty easy. (Unless you are like me and can’t even hold a needle. In this case, make sure you have people around you who can administer it for you).

In the image above, you can see an orange tip (where the needle comes out) and a blue clasp. In order to use the EpiPen, you must release the blue clasp (it removes completely), place the orange tip against the leg of the person having the reaction, and press down until you hear a click. Trust me, the click is hard to miss; it’s pretty intense. Then hold the EpiPen in that position for 10 Mississippi’s (10 full seconds). You may choose to hold it in position a few seconds longer just to make sure the full dose of epinephrine is administered.

That’s it.

The important thing is to remember to ALWAYS call 911  immediately after administering the EpiPen. Because of possible dangerous side effects, the person having the reaction must be taken to the hospital right away.

***I just want to make it clear that I do not have any background in the medical field, and that these facts/instructions came from instructions passed to me from my own physician(s). As someone with severe allergies, I think the more people who know how to recognize and help someone having a severe reaction, the better off everyone will be.***

I hope this post was useful to you in some way or another. And thanks for reading this far! You’re super awesome. Duh 🙂

There will be a post on the YA authors I met coming soon. Promise!

Talk to y’all later,


P.S. I didn’t edit this post very well, so sorry for the bad grammar/misspelled words that have certainly plagued this post.


One thought on “Something Serious: Severe Allergies, EpiPens, and What to Do

  1. Kudos for not crashing the car when that happened. I probably would have swerved into the ditch and died of a heart attack before anything useful for treating the reaction came to mind.

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