We all grew up with some dread about those occasional visits to the doctor — and usually it was that fear of getting a shot.
Now that you’re the one commissioned to give the shot, we know you may have reservations and a heightened fear at pricking your loved one. Remember though, that insulin injections are subcutaneous, meaning the area between the skin and the muscle, so the needles are usually smaller and shorter than you’re imagining.
We also know that you want it to be as pain-free as possible, so it’s important to keep in mind that confidence (while gained with practice) may also be faked in order to help put your loved one at ease. If you are cringing every time you give a shot, this will also increase anxiety and fear in the person receiving the injection. So try to relax!
Talking to your loved one and asking them questions may also help reduce anxiety. This communication (that isn’t about the injection) helps to distract the person receiving it. Before you both know it, it’ll all be over for both of you.
Speed is another key way to decrease discomfort. And the more you do it, the faster you’ll become. You aren’t going to be a pro at the start, so don’t expect to be. With a little bit of practice though, you’ll be able to administer insulin in your sleep (although we don’t recommend this).
Note: This information is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. For specific guidance on giving an insulin injection, please talk with your doctor.
CHECK YOUR INSULIN
Insulin has an expiration date, so be mindful of this and don’t use expired insulin. Seriously — just toss it. Insulin also can’t be stored in the freezer, or left in direct sunlight. If you were keeping it cool in a bag or the refrigerator, give it time (30 minutes) to warm up to room temperature. Once you open a vial you can keep it room temperature for around 28 days. There are several different brands of insulin, so know which one you’re using and its dosage.
You’ll want to make sure there are no “clumps” inside the bottle of insulin. Sometimes this can happen when a bottle is shaken around too much, so if you spot any, don’t use that bottle and get another.
Depending on the type of insulin, you may need to gently mix it. “Short-acting” insulin is clear and does not need to be mixed. “Intermediate” or “long-acting” insulin does need to be mixed and usually appears cloudy. Gently rolling the bottle between your palms for a few moments will do the trick, but remember not to shake it.
GET EVERYTHING YOU NEED
- Syringe, with needle.
- Alcohol swabs – You’ll want to wipe off the top of the bottle as well as the skin around the injection spot.
- A “sharps” container, which is basically any sturdy box with a lid where you can keep the used needles and syringes. There are rules about how and where you can dispose of these, so check in your area for what is most convenient for you. Keep in mind that you may need a specific type of container depending on which disposal option you choose.
WASH YOUR HANDS
Don’t get lazy and skip this … who knows what invisible bacteria or viruses have collected on your apparently clean fingers, and minimizing germs before puncturing your loved one is the best way to reduce the chance of skin irritation or infection.
PICK AN INJECTION SPOT
You want to inject an area of fat, not muscle, and there are several common areas for injections (the abdomen, upper legs or thighs, or the back of the arms). It’s important to rotate your injection spots — always at least 1 inch from your last, 1 inch from any scars, and 2 inches from the navel. Some doctors will even provide a chart to help you keep track.
Avoid any spots that are swollen or bruised. Make sure the skin is clean, and you can wipe this area with alcohol to make sure. Remember to let the alcohol dry before you inject, but don’t try to speed it up by blowing on it. (You want less germs, not more.)
FILL THE SYRINGE
After you pop the cap off and give the top a quick wipe with the alcohol, set the bottle on a flat surface. Grab your syringe and then pull back the plunger (filling it with air) to the amount you plan to inject. Then insert it down into the bottle and press the plunger down. This will push air into the bottle, which will add pressure and make drawing the insulin a bit easier.
Turn the bottle upside down and draw the plunger on your syringe back until you have the proper amount. You do not want any air bubbles in your syringe, so give it a little tap or push some back up into the bottle to make sure. Double-check that you still have the correct dosage in your syringe afterward.
Pull out the syringe; set it down with the bottle. And please — don’t touch anything with the needle and contaminate it. Now you’re ready …
The key to minimizing the pain of an injection is speed. You want to make quick, decisive motions and stick your loved one at a straight angle — no waggling the syringe after you make contact. Some other tips include making sure your insulin is at room temperature (there’s more discomfort when it’s cold) and encourage your loved one to relax his or her muscles before injecting.
Pinch a hunk of flesh around where you want to give the shot. This should give you an area with enough fatty tissue underneath, so you’ll want to aim straight down (at a 90-degree angle) into the skin, but if your patient is lean and there’s not much flab there, keep the needle at a slight (45 degree) angle instead. Remember, you want to avoid muscle, and doing so will also be less painful.
Hold the syringe firmly — like a dart — a few inches away from your loved one’s skin … and then bring it down with a quick motion. Don’t overthink it — just jab the needle all the way in. Now let go of the skin, push down the plunger on the syringe smoothly to inject the insulin, and then wait 5-10 seconds before pulling the needle out (at the same angle you poked it in).
Ditch the needle and syringe in your sharps container. Never reuse either.
If there’s a little insulin leak or a bit of blood from the injection site, press down on the area but avoid rubbing it. You can use a cotton ball or a wipe, and even a small bandage if you like. If this happens consistently or if your loved one repeatedly develops redness or swelling after an injection, then mention it to your doctor for further advice.
Kudos to you both! To reward yourself and your loved one, you might keep some (sugar-free) lollipops on hand. A fist bump, “in the house” chant or a traditional high-five would also do.
This is part of our First 30 Days series. Click here for an overview of all Beyond Type 1 First 30 Days Content.