There are plenty of myths about what insulin does or doesn’t do. (No, it doesn’t cause blindness or loss of limbs.) We’ll disprove those another day. Let’s bust a few myths about the how-to’s of using insulin!

Myth 1: Insulin must be stored in the refrigerator at all times.

This is only needed for pens or vials being stored for future use. For the pen or vial you are using this month, it can be left at room temperature for up to 30 days. (The 30 days is the manufacturer’s recommendation. They can only guarantee purity and full potency out to that time.) Unopened insulin should stay in the refrigerator (never in the freezer). Do not leave insulin in a hot car or other extreme temperature. When insulin is cold, it stings a bit when being injected. Room temp is the key, for the current insulin vial or pen you are using!

Myth 2: I must use an alcohol swab each time I inject.

There may be times when this is really inconvenient or just not possible. Don’t stress. It’s okay. The ADA doesn’t even recommend it anymore. The risk of infection from an insulin injection is so tiny that it’s not necessary to sterilize the area to be injected. If the skin is dirty though, soap and water are a good idea. It’s also okay to inject through clothing if necessary. No, it’s not ideal or recommended routinely, but it’s better to inject through clothing than skip your dose.

Myth 3: I have to have a Sharps container at home to dispose of my needles.

If you’d like to have an official sharps container, by all means get one. These are the small, red plastic containers that you see in medical offices. For home use, a sturdy plastic bottle like those used for laundry detergent will work just fine. A gallon milk jug is okay too, but a heavy duty plastic jug is better. Mark the outside of the bottle to show that it is for needle disposal. When it is full, put the cap on and wrap duct tape all over the top to make sure it is sealed up very well. You can then throw it away in the regular trash in most states. I know it seems like these should be recycled or something, but that’s not the case. If you have a service in your area that takes back medical waste, contact them. For information specific to your state, call Safe Needle Disposal at 1-800-643-1643 or email safeneedledisposal@needymeds.org. But yes, you can put the plastic jug with your needles in the regular trash.

Myth 4: It doesn’t matter where on my body I inject.

Well, not true. It does matter. Absorption of insulin varies from one spot to another. The highest rates of absorption are in the stomach, then thighs or buttocks, then the back of the arms. Within those areas, there are lots of places to inject. If you are using your stomach, rotate your site each time as if you are moving around a clock. Try to get an inch or two away from the last place you injected. This helps prevent a lump of fat tissue from developing under the skin in that spot. If you need multiple injections per day, it’s best to be consistent in one area per time of day. For example, use your abdomen for the first injection of the day and left thigh for the second injection of the day, but pick a spot a couple of inches from the last place you injected on that particular location. This way, you can adjust the dose to make up for any differences in absorption.

Myth 5: Insulin is insulin…it’s all the same.

It would be a lot less confusing if this was truly the case! However, it is not. Insulin varies in in onset, peak and duration of action. These three timing principles are very important to understanding when your type of insulin should be taken. Rapid- or short-acting insulin are specifically to be used at meal-times, while long-acting (also called basal insulin) is typically dosed once or twice a day and not based on food timing. Then there’s intermediate acting insulin, higher potency insulin, and pre-mixed types that include short- and intermediate-acting insulin in the same pen or vial. In short, all insulin is not created equally. Understanding what you’ve been prescribed and when it should be used is quite important.

 

What other insulin myths have you heard? What’s your source of accurate information on this confusing topic?

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