Achieving normal blood glucose readings can be challenging but it is a most worthwhile objective. Research has shown that keeping blood sugars within near normal range can prevent or delay many of the complications associated with diabetes. Careful use and storage of insulin can be important factors in good blood sugar control.

Why Injections?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar levels. The pancreas of a diabetic person may not produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels, resulting in high blood sugar. The hormone must then be introduced artificially into the system.

While the pancreas also produces the enzymes used in digestion, insulin is destroyed by the digestive system. This means that with current technology supplementation cannot be oral. To be usable, it must be administered by injection. Traditionally, insulin has been injected by syringe, but newer forms of delivery are becoming more common. Jet injectors use pressure to “push” the insulin into the skin. Insulin pens function similarly to syringes but contain pre-filled cartridges.

Finally, pumps deliver insulin in a manner most consistent with a normally functioning pancreas.

No matter which method of delivery you choose, it’s important to rotate the injection sites you use. Repeated use of the same sites may cause scarring or other forms of tissue damage that can lead to decreased absorption. Move at least one inch from prior site locations, preferably using a different area of the body for each injection throughout the day. The balance is tricky, as too much insulin will result in hypoglycemia and low blood sugar symptoms, too little, and the blood sugar remains high.

Learn how different areas of your body absorb insulin. Many people find faster or slower absorption depending on the site used for a specific injection.

Low blood sugar symptoms may be noticed if you use your abdomen when you previously only used your thighs for injections. On the other hand, by using sites with quicker absorption ability, the damage caused by prolonged high blood sugar can be avoided.

When using a pump, site rotation becomes even more important. Because infusion sets may be left in place for 48 to 72 hours, the possibility of skin damage is increased. Extra care must be used to avoid infection and scarring.

Some scientists have discovered that absorption through the lungs is quite effective.

Syringes a Thing of the Past?

Woman using insulin inhalation device

In the U.S., prescription drugs must gain approval from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) before they are available for prescription.This is a process involving several phases of clinical trials to ascertain their effectiveness and safety.

In 2002, a number of pharmaceutical companies have completed the first phase of clinical testing of oral insulin. While we know that most types of insulin taken in pill form are not feasible because they don’t survive digestion, some scientists have discovered that absorption through the lungs is quite effective. So inhaled versions are undergoing testing for human consumption since they’ve been shown to have positive effects on mice in a laboratory setting.

The insulin comes in a powder form for inhalation or in liquid form that is converted to a spray of tiny droplets. It gets into the bloodstream directly from the lungs and works the same way as the injected form.

Meanwhile, another pharmaceutical company has developed a modified form of oral insulin that is swallowed. It travels through the digestive tract and is delivered to the liver from absorption by the small intestine. It then enters the bloodstream through the liver as it does in humans without diabetes.

Needless to say, clinical trial participants favor the inhaled and pill versions above injections!

Insulin Storage

Because insulin is vital to daily functioning, it must be stored and transported with care. All types of insulin are susceptible to environmental factors such as excessive heat and freezing. To avoid damaging your insulin, consider the following insulin storage precautions.

  • Store unopened insulin in the refrigerator.
  • Store insulin that will be used within 30 days at normal room temperature.
  • If you won’t finish a vial within 30 days, store it in the refrigerator. Remove the vial from the refrigerator 30 minutes before preparing an injection to avoid the stinging sensation reported by some insulin users. Return it to the refrigerator until next use.
  • Never leave insulin in the glove box of your car; the temperature extremes can degrade the insulin and cause it to spoil.
  • For cold weather travel, keep your insulin in a pocket close to your body.
  • For hot weather, carry a cooler with an ice pack if necessary; be sure the insulin is kept cool but does not freeze.
  • Never use insulin past its expiration date or if its appearance is altered.

Insulin and Air Travel

Many precautions formerly employed by airlines have been altered due to heightened security concerns. If you plan to travel by air, be sure to check with your chosen airline well in advance of your travel dates to determine their specific regulations. Sometimes letters signed by your physician and/or original packaging with prescription labels are required for insulin and syringes.

You never know when low blood sugar symptoms may appear (or high blood sugar, for that matter) and you’ll need to be adequately prepared for any eventuality. Prepare for insulin storage should you have a layover or should the temperatures en route become extreme.

Safe Disposal

It won’t take more than a few injections for you to realize there’s quite a bit of potentially hazardous material involved with insulin delivery. Check with your local health department regarding the ultimate disposal of this waste and consider these ideas for temporary storage in the meantime.

  • Purchase what my 4-year-old calls a “needle eater,” a small, inexpensive device that snips the needle off of a syringe to prevent it from being re-used or inadvertently sticking someone.
  • Empty bleach or laundry detergent bottles make excellent containers for used lancets and syringes.
  • A clean peanut butter jar or other similar sized plastic jar makes a great disposal container when traveling.

Store all potentially hazardous materials out of reach of children and animals.