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Improper Use of Epinephrine Injectors and Asthma Inhalers

Improper Use of Epinephrine Injectors and Asthma Inhalers

The answer to the old joke, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”(the answer being “practice”) contains some much-needed advice about how to use a couple of potentially life-saving medical devices: The epinephrine pen for severe allergic reactions and metered dose inhalers to manage asthma symptoms.

Epinephrine pens (EpiPens) are made to deliver an injection of epinephrine into the thigh of someone who’s been exposed to a substance that causes them to go into life-threatening anaphylactic shock; it’s often a food such as peanuts or shellfish or venom from a bee sting, a snake or spider bite.  

But just having an epinephrine injector won’t rescue you. You have to use it correctly. And that’s not happening. In a study from the University of Texas only 16% of patients could demonstrate the right injection technique—essential for effective reversal of the allergic reaction. The most common mistake was not holding it in place for 10 seconds after injection.  

Next researcher’s tested how patients used various types of asthma inhalers. Only 7 percent used them correctly! The biggest mistake was not properly exhaling before activating the canister and breathing in. Result? Insufficient drug delivery.

So if you or anyone in your family needs either of these potentially life-saving devices make an appointment with your doctor for a refresher course in how-to. Then, every time you get a prescription refilled, ask your doctor or pharmacist to run through the technique one more time. Just like they say about getting to Carnegie Hall, using these devices correctly takes “practice, practice, practice.”

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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