Helping someone who is having a severe allergic reaction can always be a nerve-racking experience – especially if it’s your little one.
It feels counterintuitive to give someone a potentially painful injection in order to help.
We never want to hurt our little ones, even if what we’re doing is essential and life-saving.
Here we ask the question: How much does an EpiPen hurt?
What is an EpiPen used for?
An EpiPen is a pre-loaded auto-injector pen filled with epinephrine – a pharmaceutical form of adrenaline.
It’s used to relieve the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen. Research shows anaphylactic reactions in children are on the rise.
A person might have known allergens that cause anaphylaxis.
In some cases, an allergic reaction can be caused by something unexpected.
There’s a whole range of symptoms of allergic reaction.
You could experience very few symptoms, with much milder reactions.
For example, your stomach might hurt, and you might have other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Or you might feel itchy and develop a rash or hives.
Anaphylaxis is a much more serious reaction. It has the potential to become life-threatening very quickly.
What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- A skin rash like hives, with itching, flushed or pale skin
- Dizziness from low blood pressure
- Swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue or throat, which can lead to difficulty in breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Even if you have an EpiPen available, you should call for an ambulance immediately.
Does anaphylaxis hurt?
Depending on the cause of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction can hurt.
A reaction to a bee sting, for example, can hurt quite a lot. The site of the sting might swell and become inflamed.
Food allergies can cause the stomach to hurt and create nausea and vomiting.
An allergic reaction to food, such as cow’s milk protein, is one of the most common causes of anaphylaxis in babies.
The sensation of swelling around the lips and face can also hurt, as the skin rapidly stretches to accommodate the swelling.
Overall, the sensation of a severe allergic reaction isn’t pleasant but it doesn’t always cause pain.
How much does an EpiPen hurt?
Essentially an epinephrine auto-injector, or EpiPen, feels very similar to any other injection that goes into the muscle.
Epipens are used on the muscular part of the outer thigh or buttocks.
The thigh muscle is often the preferred injection site, as it’s easier to access than the buttocks, and there’s enough tissue to absorb the adrenaline effectively.
The pre-loaded pen can go through most fabrics, so there’s no need to remove the person’s clothing before administering.
It can be helpful to keep the leg immobilised while inserting the EpiPen to avoid further pain.
Just how much does an EpiPen hurt?
Like other injections that go into the muscle (e.g. B12 injections or vaccinations), there’s a sharp sting as the needle punctures the skin.
Then there’s a deep ache as the medicine is released into the muscle.
The sharp sting will hurt but lasts less than 10 seconds. The deep ache can last up to a minute.
As EpiPens are auto-injectors, the process is easy, and you don’t have to worry about not administering the injection perfectly; it’s pretty hard to get it wrong.
There are specific EpiPens for kids and for adults, with different doses. This ensures a safe dose for each individual, based on body weight.
What can you do to make an EpiPen less painful?
Rubbing the injection site where the EpiPen has gone in can relieve some of the initial hurt.
You might also like to pop an icepack on the area to numb the skin a little.
By the time the ice has taken effect, the site where the auto-injector went in will no longer be too uncomfortable.
Having to give little ones an injection is never fun.
It might be tempting to offer them a special treat or candy, as a reward for being so brave but that isn’t recommended.
It’s best not to eat anything during an anaphylactic reaction as the airway might be swollen further down the throat where you can’t see.
A hug and lots of comforting and encouraging words can definitely help.
You might also like to have one of the child’s favourite toys or comfort items nearby, or bring them to the hospital with you.
What should you do after giving an EpiPen?
Epinephrine auto-injectors can be life-saving, in reducing the effects of an anaphylactic reaction, but the person having the reaction still needs urgent medical attention.
The effects of the EpiPen can wear off in 15-30 minutes, and the person might need further medication.
Anaphylaxis can also create a ‘rebound’ reaction, where the allergic reaction starts up again, at any time, from minutes to several hours after the initial reaction.
For this reason, it is important to seek medical attention and remain in a medical setting, so the person can be monitored for a few hours after the reaction.
What are the side effects of an EpiPen?
An EpiPen is loaded with adrenaline. Adrenaline in the form of an injection has the same effects as the adrenaline we get from an argument or from high anxiety – but at higher levels.
The effects might include one or more of the following symptoms:
- Rapid, pounding heart rate
It’s normal to feel absolutely exhausted after an anaphylactic reaction – from the reaction itself, and from the side effects of the EpiPen.
You or your little one will probably want to take it easy for the next few days and have lots of rest, water, and easy to digest foods.
It can also be a good idea for you to debrief with your partner, your medical provider and your child.
Talk about what happened, and whether or not you’d do anything differently if it were to happen again.