ATLANTA - You’d think using an automatic injector would be, well, pretty automatic.
"You take off the cap,” says Sharecare.com Senior Vice President of Clinical Strategy, Dr. Darria Long-Gillespie, “ And you literally just put it on your thigh with a swinging motion. and immediately the needle comes out and it injects medication."
But if you're the parent holding the device, and the one having a severe allergic reaction is your young child, all bets are off, says Long-Gillespie.
"When you see a child is having an anaphylactic reaction, you're scared,” she says. “And you're so worried. Adrenaline is rushing in your own body, the last thing you're thinking of are all the steps."
And EpiPen injuries may be more common than you think, according at recent study by emergency physicians at Seattle Children's Hospital.
After Dr. Julie Brown treated a young boy for a severe needle cut from an auto-injector, she began wondering how common these injuries are. So she and her colleagues surveyed other emergency physicians online, and they reached out to food allergy groups on Facebook, asking if they’ve heard about or treated EpiPen injuries.
They found 22 cases of children between the ages of 1 and 11, who were injured -- some severely -- by needles from either an EpiPen or EpiPen Jr. device.
17 children suffered deep cuts to their thighs. In 4 cases, researchers reported, the needle got stuck in the child.
And in 3 reported cases, a child was re-injured, when the person giving the injection reinserted the needle, because it was knocked out before the FDA-recommended 10 seconds were up.
So, how can parents use these devices safely?
Dr. Long-Gillespie says remember 3 steps.
First, restrain the child.
“When you're coming at them with a needle, of course, they're going to be scared,” she says. “And, of course, they're going to try to get away. Restrain them and get another adult to help hold them down if you can."
Secondly, she says, never reuse the same EpiPen in an emergency.
“If they kick it off, which often happens, don't take that same EpiPen and re-inject it. That needle is dirty, you do not want to do that."
Finally, she says, if the needle has been in the child for at least 3 seconds before being kicked out, don’t re-inject inject it.
“The instructions say, or according to the FDA, you have to hold it in for 10 seconds,” she says. “ If you have had it in for at least 3 seconds, you don't need to repeat the dose."
Researchers say EpiPen injuries are extremely rare, and the benefits of the emergency medication outweigh the risks.
But, because the injuries can be serious, Dr. Brown advises parent to practice how they’d use the device and how they’d restrain their child.