No, using the manual syringe/vial method is NOT the same as using an epinephrine autoinjector

I have a lot of inflammatory things to say about the current economic situation for patients who need epinephrine autoinjectors but for now, I’m going to stick to dispelling the most damaging myth I have seen spreading like wildfire.

No, manually drawing epinephrine from a vial or ampule into a syringe and then administering is NOT the same as using an autoinjector.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology is a professional organization that regularly publishes updated practice parameters on the treatment of anaphylaxis. In their 2015 Anaphylaxis Practice Parameter Update, the AAAAI recommended that providers “prescribe two doses of auto-injectable epinephrine for patients who have experienced an anaphylactic reaction and for those at risk for severe anaphylaxis.”

This publication also addresses commonly disputed situations relating to anaphylaxis such as when and how to administer epinephrine to patients in special populations, like children under the weight range for Epipen Jr (33 pounds). The recommendation in the practice parameter was to use an Epipen Jr rather prescribe a syringe and vial of epinephrine for the parents to administer a smaller dose. The justification for this recommendation given in the 2015 Anaphylaxis Practice Parameter Update is that “…underdosing might not effectively treat anaphylaxis, giving a dose that is slightly above the ideal dose appears to be a better option than giving a dose that is below the recommended dose.”

A 2001 study by Simons et al. assessed how long it takes parents to manually draw up epinephrine from a vial. They also determined how long this took for resident physicians, general duty nurses and ER nurses. The results are in table 1 below.

Table 1: Mean time to draw up dose of epinephrine, range of time and variation in drug concentration
Group Mean time to draw up dose Range of time Variation in epinephrine content within group
Parents 142 ± 13 seconds 83-248 seconds Forty-fold variation
Resident physicians 52 ± 3 seconds 30-83 seconds 7 to 8-fold variation
General duty nurses 40 ± 2 seconds 26-71 seconds 2-fold variation
ER nurses 29 ± 0.09 seconds 27-33 seconds No variation


As you can see, the fastest parent drew it up in 83 seconds (about a minute and a half) while the slowest drew it up in 248 seconds (over four minutes). There was a 40-fold variation in the amount of epinephrine drawn up so both underdosing (which will not stop anaphylaxis) and overdosing (which can cause severe CV effects) would have occurred. Please note that this study does not assess how much longer it took to inject the medication for obvious reasons. It was also done in a controlled environment that assuredly was much less stressful and chaotic than one that would accompany a real life anaphylactic emergency.

Say it takes 15 seconds to find the vial and needle and open them and another 15 seconds to inject it. In a best case scenario, in which the parent is aware of anaphylaxis at the exact moment it begins, is in no way flustered, confused, or scared, and is in a situation where they can immediately respond (by which I mean, they are not driving, they are not swimming, they are not watching their child from 100 feet away), the fastest a parent would be able to draw it up and administer the med would be about two and a half minutes. Two and a half minutes with no oxygen if the child’s airway closes right away. If you are an anaphylaxis patient and are trying to do this for yourself, you would be expected to be able to function without oxygen for two and a half minutes.

About 30% of anaphylaxis patients require a redose of epinephrine to control anaphylaxis. So if you or your child is one of those people, you then have to do all of this again. If the first dose doesn’t do much, it could be another two and a half minutes.

The numbers were better for resident physicians and general duty nurses but you are still looking at 2-2.5 minutes for the slower members of these groups. There was a 7 to 8-fold difference in amount of medication drawn by resident physicians. ER nurses reliably drew up the dose in about 30 seconds and assuming that it takes 30 seconds to get the med and needle, and to inject it, they could draw and deliver in about a minute. That is the best you can hope for.

I realize that many mast cell parents and patients draw from vials/push meds/inject meds frequently and they may be practiced enough to draw the dose reliably and administer correctly. If we assume the most competent among them to be as competent as the ER nurses, it takes about a minute to administer the med. I just timed myself and it took eight seconds for me to get the epipens out of my purse, open the case, and remove the blue cap. (I used a trainer). It took less than one second to bring the injector to my leg. The entirety of the dose of epinephrine is delivered from an epipen in three seconds.  So 12 seconds for use of an epipen vs 60 seconds for the fastest, most reliable manual draw and inject.

There are currently two other autoinjectors available in the US: Adrenaclick and epinephrine autoinjector, a generic version. Both of those autoinjectors differ from epipens in two important ways: they are syringe based, whereas epipens are cartridge based; and their needles are shorter compared to epipens. In one specific comparison study by Ram et al., Epipens were found to more reliably deliver the most epinephrine (74.3% of intended dose) compared to syringe autoinjectors like Adrenaclick and epinephrine autoinjector (25.7% of intended dose). Auvi-Q was pulled off the market for similar delivery issues. (Author’s note: please note that this study did not include the specific generic epinephrine autoinjector, but its delivery mechanism is comparable to Adrenaclick).

A 2015 study reported by Umasunthar and colleagues compared how often mothers of food allergic children were able to correctly administer Anapen (a syringe based autoinjector not available in the US) vs Epipen in a simulation. Six weeks after they were shown how to use it, 42% correctly administered Anapen and 43% correctly administered Epipen. This means that over half of participants could not correctly administer epinephrine even with an autoinjector.

Alternative autoinjectors are not comparable to Epipens and neither is the manual syringe/vial method.  Delay in administration of epinephrine is a strong risk factor for poor outcome, including fatal anaphylaxis. Additionally, delay in administration of epinephrine or inadequate initial dosing is a risk factor for biphasic anaphylaxis.

Stay safe out there.


Lieberman P, et al. Anaphylaxis – a practice parameter update 2015. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2015: 115, 341-384.

Lieberman P. Biphasic anaphylactic reactions. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2005: 95, 217-228.

Ram FSF, et al. Epinephrine self-administration in anaphylactic emergencies: Comparison of commonly available autoinjectors. Journal of Asthma and Allergy Educators 2012: 3(4), 178-181.

Simons FER, et al. Epinephrine for the out-of-hospital (first-aid) treatment of anaphylaxis in infants: Is the ampule/syringe/needle method practical? Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2001: 108(6), 1040-1044.

Umasunthar T, et al. Patients’ ability to treat anaphylaxis using adrenaline autoinjectors: a randomized controlled trials. Allergy 2015: 70(7), 855-863.

Unshakeable: An update on Kristina

On Father’s Day in 2008, my father had a massive heart attack. My mother, sister and I were passengers in the car he was driving to a restaurant for dinner when he suffered a full cardiac arrest. I know all of the facts about what happened because I have recited them so many times, but I don’t truly “remember” most of what happened. I remember performing CPR in the middle of the street and worrying that I was not being forceful enough with compressions immediately before I cracked his sternum. I also remember calling my uncle from the ambulance and thinking at the hospital that this was one of those moments that would divide my life into periods of before and after.

There have been a few other moments and I mostly recognize them when they are happening. I did not realize that the week spanning the end of September and beginning of October in 2015 would be one of those. I spend a lot of time reassuring people about their health, including myself, to the point that it is almost a reflex. I assume things will be fine until I am shown incontrovertible evidence that they will not. I trick my body into thinking it’s not scared by donning the physicality of confidence and busy my mind with other things.

I have a practiced eye and I should have been able to see the impending storm last year. On the other side of the horizon, a darkness gathered, spinning and spinning into a fury. But I didn’t. None of us did. I think about it every single day.

Last week, a friend commented that Naples is not too far from where Kristina lives. It’s lucky that she did because I had no idea. Kristina is a mast cell patient and mom of a mast cell baby. She is my friend and part of a group that included me and six other masto moms or patients who shared everything. Kristina suffered a brainstem stroke last October and suffers from locked in syndrome. She is aware and understands everything happening but is unable to control her body or speak.

I visited Kristina yesterday at home with her family. She is still Kristina. She laughed at my sarcasm and bad jokes. I asked her if I could give an update for everyone thinking of her and praying for her. She said I could.

The last ten months have been very challenging for her and her family because she lost all functionality but very limited eye movement in the stroke. Additionally, she is a mast cell patient, which complicates her management and treatment. Her team is aggressively working to teach her brain to make new pathways to control movement, especially in her face, arms and fingers. She is working on sitting upright and spent some time in a wheelchair while I was there.

She has regained some movement in her face and neck. She can turn her head from side to side. She can control her eye movement better, including blinking. She can move some other muscles in her face, including above her eyes and near her mouth. Kristina communicates currently by eye movement and answers yes/no questions or spells words by blinking when the alphabet is recited to her.

Kristina is able to breathe on her own with a tracheostomy, which allows extra assistance to help clear secretions and cough if needed. Her speech therapist tried a new valve on her trach while I was there and for the first time in ten months, I heard Kristina’s voice.

It is not in my nature to be hopeless, even when things are grim. In 2008, my father was in a coma after his heart attack long enough that we were approached about giving him a trach to keep him ventilated long term. We were given a target date for this procedure since he was not expected to wake from the coma before then. Instead, the vent was removed and he woke up on my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. It has been eight years since that day and I am still grateful for that every day. The fact that my father survived has given me the unshakeable understanding that sometimes, even when it seems hopeless, and even when we can’t explain it, people get better.

Kristina is a tenacious, intelligent and eminently capable person. Her family is amazing. They are so dedicated to her recovery. Getting to hug Kristina, and her mom, husband and son, was easily the highlight of my year. I don’t know what will happen but I am hopeful. I told her that we love her and that so many people think about her and ask about her often. I told her that I was glad to see how well she was adapting to being home and that she was making gains and that I had an unshakeable belief that she would get better, too.

Thank you for keeping Kristina and her family in your thoughts and prayers.

An uncommon gift

Rare disease patients often have little in common but their disease.
We speak different languages.
We are of different races.
We live in different countries.
We have different families.
We have different ages
And politics
And religions.
We laugh differently
And love differently
And cry differently
But when you are in the moment, it all feels the same.
And because we are so different
We might never have been friends otherwise
But that doesn’t matter
Because we are.
And sometimes our differences make our friendships messy.
And sometimes our closeness despite our differences feels like cheating
Like getting a gift in celebration of something
We shouldn’t be celebrating.

Today I visited a dear friend
Who was a gift from this disease
And I sat with her
And rubbed her hands
And told funny stories
And reminisced
About the hard days
Before the hardest days came.
And thought to myself
That I will never be able to put this feeling into words.
To put this connection
Into words.
To describe
How one day
A long time ago
This woman told me about her son
And that she was scared
And when she did
The fear in my heart saw hers
But it saw the courage too
And hearts are always more courageous
When they don’t beat alone.
I will never be able to put into words
What happened inside me
When she lost her voice
And things seemed hopeless
And she was scared
And I was scared
But my heart mustered some courage
So that her heart would see it.
And we don’t know what will happen
But the only way to overcome these hardest days
Is by opening our eyes
Even when we don’t want to
And laughing
Even when it makes it hard to breathe
And remembering
Even when it twists your insides
To know
That none of us saw this coming
And that we are scared
That we won’t overcome this.

But we are part of this world
A world that gave us
And warm breezes
And the night sky.
That gave us
And family
And friends
To remind us
That there is good here.
That gave us
Terror and pain
So that we would understand joy
So that would know peace.
This disease
So that we could find each other.
These hardest days
So that we can overcome
And so that nothing
Will ever
Seem hard