How to use an autoinjector when you have food allergies

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that can occur when you're exposed to foods you're allergic to, such as peanuts, eggs and shellfish. Physical signs of anaphylaxis can include hives, vomiting, and swelling of the lips, tongue or throat.

Epinephrine can rapidly reverse anaphylaxis. This medication usually comes in an autoinjector — a combined syringe and needle that releases a single dose of medication when pressed against the skin. You'll likely be prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others) if you have food allergies, to use immediately if you have a severe allergic reaction, even before you reach the hospital.

Carry an epinephrine autoinjector at all times if you've ever had an allergic reaction to food, and make sure it's not expired.

When to use an autoinjector

If you have food allergies — whether or not you've eaten something you're allergic to — inject yourself with epinephrine right away if you're:

  • Having trouble breathing
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, as if you may pass out
  • Feeling flushed or itchy, with hives or swelling

If you're with a child who has food allergies, inject the child with epinephrine immediately, especially if the child has eaten something he or she is allergic to, if the child is:

  • Groggy or faint
  • Flushed or has hives or swelling
  • Coughing repeatedly or has trouble breathing
  • Vomiting
Jul. 08, 2014 See more In-depth