Epinephrine (adrenaline) is the most commonly used drug to treat anaphylaxis - a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis can occur as a reaction to such allergy-causing substances as insect venoms, latex, foods and medications. An anaphylactic response occurs rapidly, often beginning within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen. A severe anaphylactic reaction may include constriction of the airway and shock. Milder reactions may consist of hives and itching only.
The standard treatment for anaphylaxis is an injection of epinephrine, which opens the airways and improves blood circulation. If you’re at risk of anaphylactic shock - for example, if you have food allergies - your doctor may recommend that you carry epinephrine. You may be able to administer the drug by yourself, after being taught how to use a self-injecting syringe and needle. A friend, family member or medical personnel called in response to a severe anaphylactic reaction also may administer the medication.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD