If you're queasy around needles, having to inject insulin could be a living nightmare. Try these insulin injection tips to help ease the process.
If you have diabetes and need insulin treatment, the thought of injecting yourself for the first time can cause much anxiety. However, insulin injections are a lot easier than you might think, says Donna Tomky, MSN, RN, C-NP, a diabetes educator at ABQ Health Partners in Albuquerque, N.M., and a past president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
First, ask yourself what scares you the most about the injection. Is it the needle? The fear of pain? Not wanting to take medication for diabetes? “Once initial concerns are addressed, myths can also be dispelled,” Tomky explains.
A big help to overcoming insulin fears is performing your first injection with your doctor or a diabetes educator, Tomky says. “When that happens, people are amazed at how little they feel,” she says.
Even if you've been doing insulin injections for diabetes for awhile, the following tips can make the process even easier. This advice works with both a needle and syringe as well as an insulin pen.
Insulin Injections: Step-by-Step Tips
- Make sure you have the right kind of insulin. Some people take more than one type of insulin and at different dosing amounts, Tomky says. If you live in a house where other people also use insulin, make sure you have your insulin bottle in hand and not someone else’s.
- Use shorter needles. Shorter needles, which are more common in insulin pens, appear to be more effective than longer needles, according to research published in The Diabetes Educator. Needles in the 4-millimeter to 5-millimeter range are easiest to use, says Kathy Feigenbaum, RN, a clinical nurse specialist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
- If your insulin is refrigerated, take it out about 10 minutes before you inject to let it come to room temperature. “Cold insulin stings like crazy,” says Sandra Burke, PhD, ANP, a diabetes educator, clinical associate professor and director of the Urbana-Champaign regional program with the University of Illinois College of Nursing, and a former president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. You can also roll your needle and syringe in your hand a few times to warm them up.
- If using an insulin pen, perform a two-unit test dose into the air, in a trash can, or onto a desk, Dr. Burke says. By doing so, you can make sure the insulin is properly flowing through the needle so you’ll get the correct injection amount.
- Decide where best to inject. “Where you can pinch an inch, you can inject,” Tomky says. Often that’s in the abdomen, but it could also be the fatty part of an arm or thigh. Injecting in the same general body area is a good idea because the insulin will enter your bloodstream at about the same speed with each shot. Just try to avoid injecting in the exact same spot all of the time. Injecting in the same spot is likely to cause scar tissue in that area, which may lead to the insulin not properly reaching your bloodstream all the time, she explains.
- Clean your injection area with an alcohol wipe first. Or just make sure the skin area is already clean.
- Inject at a 90-degree angle. “Count to five, release the skin, and the needle just slides out,” Burke says.
If you experience any injection pain beyond a slight sting, talk with your doctor or diabetes educator. “It’s possible to nick a vein and get a little black and blue, and that’s harmless, but if you have pain, something is wrong,” says Timothy Bailey, MD, an endocrinologist, clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of California in San Diego, and a board member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
Insulin Treatment Away From Home
If you need to inject insulin at work or on the go, these considerations can help make it go more smoothly for you:
- Know that insulin can be stored at room temperature, so you’re not chained to a refrigerator. “Often people think they can’t carry insulin with them and that it has to stay in the fridge, but they can take it with them,” Tomky says. Just don’t leave it in the car or any area where it could get exposed to extreme temperatures. That can ruin its potency.
- Consider logistics and choose a location that works for you. “Some people are comfortable slyly injecting at a restaurant table, while others prefer to go to the restroom,” Tomky says. If you’re injecting while at a restaurant, don’t inject until the food is on the table, she cautions, or you may negatively affect your blood sugar if there’s a delay in when you can start eating.
- If you anticipate having to inject frequently outside of your home, consider using an insulin pen instead of a needle and syringe. “This is where insulin pens are so convenient — they already have the needles in them,” Tomky says. In fact, once you try a pen, the small, thin needle in it may convert you full-time, permanently easing any queasy feelings about insulin injections that may linger for you.