We all grew up with some dread about those occasional visits to the doctor — and usually it was that fear of getting a shot. Sure it was nice to get a lollipop (or a maybe a sticker, if your parents were lame like that), but it probably didn’t seem like a fair deal, right?
And now that you’re faced with giving yourself an insulin injection, don’t think that you’re unusual or especially cowardly if this appears to be *the worst* element of having diabetes. One (very minor) consolation, however, is 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.
Actually, after the novelty (or “terror”, as it may be) wears off and you have some practice, you’ll find that it can be a simple and pain-free process. One key to minimizing discomfort is to be quick and confident with your movements, and you will absolutely get better with practice … but that’s not much consolation when you’re first starting out, so let’s walk through it step by step, with some helpful tips along the way.
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 you use and check that you know your 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 your injection spot.
- A “sharps” container, which is basically any sturdy box with a lid where you can keep your 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 yourself is the best way to reduce your 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 your navel. Some doctors will even provide a chart to help you keep track. Avoid any spots that are swollen or bruised.
Make sure your 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 yourself 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 that you try to relax your 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 you’re 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 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 your 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 your 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 you repeatedly develop redness or swelling after an injection, then mention it to your doctor for further advice.
Kudos to you! To reward yourself, you might keep some (sugar-free) lollipops on hand or maybe even some stickers.
This is part of our First 30 Days series. Click here for an overview of all Beyond Type 1 First 30 Days Content.
WebMD: “Giving Yourself an Insulin Shot” http://wb.md/1i6FJ96
Johns Hopkins: Giving Yourself a Subcutaneous Injection http://bit.ly/1i6FP0j
FDA: “How to Get Rid of a Sharps Container” http://1.usa.gov/1gi7pqf
NIH: “Giving an insulin injection” http://1.usa.gov/1im8EGY
American Diabetes Association : “Insulin Routines” http://bit.ly/1Mjf3PB
Univ. of Pittsburgh: “Insulin Pens: How to Give a Shot” http://bit.ly/1Mjg2PN
Univ of Michigan: Subcutaneous Self-Injection http://bit.ly/1K42RfG