Know the Difference: Epinephrine vs. Antihistamines

There's always more to learn when it comes to understanding food allergies. This is the first post in our new "Know the Difference" blog series, which will tackle some of the most commonly misunderstood terms and concepts about food allergies and food allergy management. Read on - you just might learn something!

Epinephrine vs. Antihistamines

Epinephrine (adrenaline) is the first-line treatment for severe or life-threatening allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis. It is available in an auto-injector ( Auvi-Q™, EpiPen® or Adrenaclick®). Epinephrine is a highly effective medication that can reverse severe symptoms. However, it must be given quickly to be most effective. Delayed use of epinephrine during an anaphylactic reaction can be deadly.

Epinephrine is a safe drug, with the risks of anaphylaxis outweighing any risks of administering the medication. Patients should proceed to the emergency room after epinephrine is administered in case additional medication or treatment is needed to manage the reaction, not because epinephrine is a dangerous drug.

Antihistamines, known as H1 blockers, are prescribed to relieve mild allergy symptoms (e.g., itching, sneezing, hives and rashes), although they cannot stop or control a severe reaction. Medications in this class include diphendydramine (Benadryl®) and cetirizine (Zyrtec®).

Antihistamines do not treat anaphylaxis and have no life-saving capacity – if an anaphylactic reaction is occurring, give epinephrine immediately and call 911.