EpiPen in Canada | Understanding Its Importance

Posted on June 18, 2021

The lives of many Canadians are being increasingly impacted by food allergies. In fact, 3 million Canadians, that's nearly 10% of the population, self-report as having a food allergy.

Many parents are also caring for a child with a food allergy, with half a million Canadian children affected. Some food allergies have life-threatening consequences. That's where EpiPen comes in.

How important is an EpiPen? Who should have one? How should you use one? Let's explore the answer to these questions and more regarding EpiPen in Canada.

Many of us have heard the term EpiPen, but it's important to understand that this is actually a brand name. The active ingredient in EpiPen in Canada is epinephrin. The EpiPen is an auto-injectable device that delivers the drug directly into the bloodstream. 

A person who is having a severe allergic response needs a shot of epinephrine as soon as possible. It can begin to control the symptoms while waiting for further medical help.

Epinephrin is a man-made version of adrenaline. Adrenaline is naturally produced by the body and it releases it in stressful situations. It causes air passages to dilate to allow more oxygen into the bloodstream. Blood vessels constrict to redirect blood to the vital organs.

How Can I Get an EpiPen?

Unlike the United States, where you need a doctor's prescription to buy an EpiPen, you can buy an EpiPen without a prescription in Canada. Before buying an EpiPen, check with your provincial health insurance about coverage available to you.

While you can visit a pharmacy to get an EpiPen, you can also buy EpiPen and generic versions online in Canada. 

What Is EpiPen Used For?

A person uses an EpiPen when they're having a severe allergic reaction. This is known medically as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can come on within seconds or even hours of consuming an allergen. 

When allergy sufferers start to experience these symptoms, they must immediately administer the medication.

The EpiPen's benefits are felt immediately. It decreases swelling by constricting the blood vessels. The muscles around the airway relax, allowing the patient to breathe more easily. The active ingredient, epinephrine, also stops the release of the chemicals causing an allergic reaction. This stops the allergic response in its tracks.

How to Use an EpiPen

The following instructions are for using EpiPen currently on the Canadian market. Other brands and generic epinephrine auto-injectors may operate slightly differently. Make sure to familiarize yourself with how to use the product when you get it.

  1. Remove the blue safety cap by pulling it off without twisting
  2. Place the orange tip against your thigh (can go through clothes if needed)
  3. Swing and push the EpiPen into the thigh until you hear the 'click'
  4. Hold firmly in place for three full seconds
  5. Call 911 for further help

The final step is vital. Using your EpiPen is just the first step. Further medical help will be needed and you can have a second reaction. After 15 minutes, if your reaction has not improved, you can take a second shot.

The EpiPen is designed as an auto-injector. That means it's designed to be self-administered. It is also designed to be operated with one hand. However, you can also administer this to someone who is not able to do it to themselves. 

The needle will now retract back into the EpiPen for safety and you can give it to emergency responders. They will be able to dispose of it safely.

Cost of EpiPen

You can buy an EpiPen in Canada for around $136 for one syringe. The price is the same for junior and adult EpiPens, although the dosage is different. The EpiPen cost in Canada compares very favourably with the United States, where the same dose could cost up to $400 USD.

The EpiPen brand remains the most expensive on the market. But since 2018 generic versions have also been available. In some provinces, it is possible to get an EpiPen for free through the province's health insurance, such as OHIP in Ontario. They may cover the cost of the generic rather than the branded version.

Is There a Generic Brand of EpiPen?

Since 2018, it has been possible to buy generic epinephrine auto-injectors in Canada. They are sold under the brand names Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, and Symjepi, and other generic versions are also available. They are often available at cheaper prices than the original brand version.

Conditions Where an EpiPen Must Be Carried

EpiPens are for people who suffer from allergies, including:

  • Severe food allergies, including peanut
  • Insect sting and bite allergy
  • Medication allergies

If a doctor has prescribed an EpiPen for you, you must carry it with you all the time. 

Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

The symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) include:

  • Skin: hives, itching, or swelling (face, lips, tongue)
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hay fever-like symptoms
  • Stomach pain: nausea, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Heart (cardiovascular) symptoms: pallor, weak pulse, fainting, dizziness
  • Other anxiety-related symptoms

You may have one or more of these symptoms while having a severe allergic reaction. If you know that you have an allergy, and start to experience these symptoms, it's important to use your EpiPen right away. Everyone is different, but the most common symptoms of anaphylaxis are hives and swelling.

Epinephrine is the only drug that can treat all of the symptoms of anaphylaxis in one shot. It has a whole-body effect. It not only treats the symptoms but actively works to bring the allergic reaction to a stop.

If anaphylaxis is not treated, the body can go into anaphylactic shock. This is a potentially fatal condition. If in doubt, it's better to use your EpiPen.

How Long Does EpiPen Last?

EpiPens have a shelf-life of 18 months. As it's often a few months between manufacture and purchase, it's important to check the expiry date when you buy it.

Set a reminder for yourself to buy a new one a few days prior to the expiry of your current EpiPen. The jury's out on the safety and effectiveness of expired EpiPens. However, the current advice from manufacturers is not to use them after they have expired.

Do not use an EpiPen that has changed colour or has any particles in it. This is true whether it has expired or not. Safely discard it and get a new one.

If you have an expired EpiPen, first of all, make sure that you have a replacement. Then take your expired EpiPen to a pharmacy. They can safely dispose of it for you. Do not throw an expired or used EpiPen in the garbage. 

An EpiPen is a single dose. You cannot use it a second time. All used EpiPens should be handed to emergency responders for safe disposal. If you forget, ask your pharmacist later for a puncture-proof container for safe disposal.

Do I Have to Go to the Hospital Even if I Have an EpiPen?

The effects of an EpiPen wear off after about 10-20 minutes. It's very important that you seek medical attention even if you are feeling better. There can be secondary reactions. You need to be assessed by a medical professional to ensure that the attack is truly over. 

As soon as you have taken the first shot, call 911. You may need further medical treatment at the hospital. This may include additional epinephrine, steroids, antihistamines, or other treatments. 

The doctors at the emergency room will keep you under observation for up to 12 hours. This is because there is a risk of secondary reactions. Once you have been there for several hours and show no further signs of anaphylaxis, they will let you go home.

Once home it can take anything from a few hours to a few days to feel better after anaphylaxis. While this is frustrating, it's much better than the alternative. Anaphylaxis can progress quickly to anaphylaxic shock if not treated. This can prove fatal in a matter of minutes. 

What If I Inject an EpiPen Without Needing One?

It is possible to misinterpret your symptoms and take an EpiPen without needing it. Accidents also happen. Especially if children are left with access to an EpiPen unsupervised. 

If you do inject yourself with an EpiPen without needing one, check which dosage you have taken. The junior EpiPen has a lower dosage and will have less effect on an adult. The epinephrine will get to work, opening your airways, raising your blood pressure and heart rate. 

If you have injected it into your thigh, at least it is in the right place. Alert those around you and call your doctor. Describe the symptoms you're experiencing. They may ask you to come into their office to give you a check-up.

If you accidentally inject it into another part of your body, such as your hand or finger, it could be serious. It's very important to seek medical help right away. The drug will constrict the blood flow to the injection site. The reduced blood flow could cause injuries if not promptly treated.

The Importance of EpiPen in Canada

We cannot overstate the importance of EpiPen in Canada. It is literally a life-saver for people at risk of severe allergic reactions. If you, or a loved one, are at risk, make sure that you have an EpiPen or generic version with you at all times. Practise using it, and show your family and friends how to use it too. 

Insurdinary has a wealth of resources for those with managing health concerns. We can help you access the right health insurance for your needs, and those of your family. Inquire today and we will contact you to help you compare health insurance plans available to you.

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