UMEM Educational Pearls


Patients with severe asthma exacerbations that are unresponsive to inhaled beta-agonists may require the use of epinephrine to control their symptoms.  When patients get to this point what route of administration should be used for the administration of epinephrine?

The most recent asthma guidelines (published in 2007) recommend the use of SubQ epinephrine 0.3-0.5 mg every 20 minutes for 3 doses.  Drug references typically list SubQ or IM epinephrine 0.01 mg/kg (~0.3-0.5 mg) every 20 minutes as appropriate routes of administration.  There is currently no data demonstrating that one route of administration is better than the other in patients with asthma; however, in other disease states, such as anaphylaxis, IM epinephrine is preferred due to the more rapid and reliable absorption over SubQ administration.

Auto-injectors that administer IM epinephrine 0.3 mg are available.  These auto-injectors may decrease the risk of medications error; however, they can be expensive.  SubQ administration requires the use of a syringe and a vial/ampule of 1 mg/mL epinephrine.

Bottom Line: Either SubQ or IM epinephrine administration is appropriate for patients with severe asthma exacerbations.  The preferred method at a given institution will be dictated by historical practice, risk of medication dosing errors, and drug cost.



1. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, Third Expert Panel on the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Bethesda (MD): National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (US); 2007 Aug. Available from:

2.Simons FER, Ardusso LRF, Bilo MB, El-Gamal YM, Ledford DK, Ring J, et al. World Allergy Organization Anaphylaxis Guidelines: Summary. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011;127(3):587–93. e1-e20.