On the one hand, for those who are severely allergic to stimulants commonly found in the environment, Epipens are irreplaceable lifelines.
On the other, most other people haven’t even heard of them.
An EpiPen is an epinephrine autoinjector that injects a predetermined dose of epinephrine into the body and is a one of the commonly used treatments for allergy relief. It is a medical device that is instrumental in managing the exaggerated allergic response called anaphylaxis.
What exactly are allergies?
The immune system plays the all-important role of defending the body against foreign substances, like harmful bacteria and viruses, by producing antibodies to fight them. However, some people’s immune systems misinterpret harmless substances as unsafe, and this causes an allergic reaction.
An allergy is the immune system’s exaggerated response to (normally harmless) substances, called allergens. This means that the body’s defence mechanism overreacts to the substance, to which it is hypersensitive, as if it were harmful, and tries to destroy it by inducing an inflammatory reaction.
Allergens are harmless to those who are not sensitive to them. But for those who are, they cause enormous distress.
They can be found in foods, drinks or the environment. There are various types of allergens:
· Animal products like fur, dander, wool and dust mite faeces.
· Foods like nuts, seafood, corn, eggs, fruit, soy and wheat.
· Bites of insects like bees and wasps.
· Medications like penicillin and sulfonamides.
· Pollens of various plants.
· Synthetic materials like latex.
These can cause allergic reactions with varying degrees of severity. Some are seasonal, while others are year-round and life-long.
Symptoms of allergies usually develop within a few minutes of being exposed to an allergen, but in some cases, they may gradually manifest over a few hours. These, too, vary from person to person, what the allergen is, and how one comes in contact with it. The more commonly experienced symptoms are:
· Raised, red, itchy rashes or hives
· Wheezing and difficulty breathing
· Tightness in the chest
· An irritated, itchy, runny nose accompanied by long bouts of sneezing (allergic rhinitis)
· Swollen face, lips or tongue
· Vomiting and diarrhoea
According to this report by the Food Standards Agency, approximately 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy in the UK alone.
What is anaphylaxis, and why does it occur?
According to the National Health Service (NHS), anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction which can be life-threatening.
It has a sudden onset, occurs within seconds or minutes of exposure to the offending allergen, and escalates rapidly.
Anaphylaxis results in the immune system releasing an onslaught of chemicals that affects the whole body, sometimes causing one to go into shock, called anaphylactic shock. This happens due to a sudden drop in blood pressure and the consequent reduction in blood circulation, which deprives the body of oxygen and nutrients. Airways may also become narrow, blocking normal breathing.
The signs of anaphylaxis include the following:
· Severe swelling of the throat, tongue and mouth
· Blue skin or lips
· Hives and rashes all over the body
· A weak and rapid pulse
· Struggling to breathe
· Loss of consciousness
If not treated swiftly and appropriately, anaphylaxis causes serious complications and can even be fatal.
It is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment, the most important of which is the expeditious administration of epinephrine.
What is epinephrine, and what is its role as a treatment for allergy relief?
Epinephrine is the first–line of treatment for anaphylaxis. It is thoroughly effective and fast-acting.
Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced by the adrenal glands. It acts by constricting blood vessels (which increases blood pressure) and widening airways. It directly counteracts the effects of anaphylaxis and is a life-saving treatment.
Why are Epipens so important, and why should they be everywhere?
There is no cure for food and other allergies. The only way to manage the condition is by maintaining a strict diet, being vigilant about any triggers and being fully prepared to deal with an anaphylactic emergency effectively.
Certain individuals are more susceptible to anaphylaxis.
A few risk factors that may increase the risk of experiencing anaphylaxis are:
· Previous episodes of anaphylaxis: Not only does having anaphylaxis in the past make you more susceptible to future reactions, but the subsequent reactions might be even more severe than the first one.
· Allergies: Those who have allergies or are asthmatic run a higher risk of developing anaphylaxis.
· Other medical issues like heart disease.
That being said, people can develop an allergy to something at any time, or a slow-developing hypersensitivity may manifest as an episode of anaphylaxis at any moment, even in people who have no history of allergic attacks.
Epipens are small, handy and convenient to carry, and more importantly, easily operated to administer the required dose of epinephrine in case of anaphylaxis. With enough foresight, patients themselves may be able to inject a dose when symptoms begin to appear. Having an EpiPen available at the correct time can prove to be potentially life-saving
These days, the number of people susceptible to allergic diseases is skyrocketing.
Considering the high prevalence of allergens, both known and unknown, as well as the sheer frequency with which people come into contact with them, there’s no telling when you or someone dear to you will have an anaphylactic attack. Many foods and materials contain trace amounts of allergens that are unnoticeable but can trigger an allergic reaction.
Taking into account the severe ramifications of an anaphylactic reaction, it is obvious how valuable it can be to have an EpiPen on hand.
Presently, people who are aware of their allergies pack their medications and epinephrine injectors. However, in many parts of the world, steps are being employed to ensure that Epipens are available in places like schools, universities and restaurants. This is largely because a substantial percentage of severe allergic reactions, especially at schools, occur among those with no prior allergy diagnosis. It is essential that these indispensable medical devices become a common addition to first aid kits, so they are always available.
Although this is a move in the right direction, these arrangements are nowhere close to being fully realized, mostly due to the higher cost of Epipens. We hope that these life-saving devices can be made less expensive and more readily available to the public.
For now, one can purchase Epipens in physical or online pharmacies, but they sell out quite quickly in the former. Click Pharmacy is a registered online pharmacy that provides Epipens and other anti-allergy medications and has its team of medical experts available round-the-clock for any advice you may require.