Health + Wellness

Caregiving: How to Give Insulin Shots


insulin shots

Diabetes is a serious illness that requires close attention and daily treatment. If you’re caring for an aging or ill relative or a child who has the disease, diabetes management may be one of your duties. You’ll have to check that person’s blood sugar levels and make sure he or she gets a healthy diet. And if he or she needs insulin shots, you’ll have to learn how to use a needle.

Injecting medicine can be a daunting task for anyone who isn’t a medical professional, but countless caregivers have discovered that they’re up to the job. Your relative’s doctor should give you thorough instructions, including what type of insulin to use, how much to inject, and how often to inject it. (Most people who need insulin get at least two shots each day.) Check with the doctor if you have any questions about handling insulin or using a needle. Here’s a basic overview to help you stay on track.

Handling insulin

Like many other medicines, insulin is sensitive to changes in temperature. Never freeze insulin or allow it to heat up by placing it in direct sunlight. If you buy more than one bottle at a time, check the expiration dates before you leave the pharmacy to make sure that none will expire before you use them up. An open bottle of insulin can be left at room temperature for as long as 30 days. Keep unopened bottles in the refrigerator. Cold shots can be uncomfortable, so before giving one, take the insulin bottle out of the refrigerator and allow the liquid to reach room temperature. Do not use insulin after it has been at room temperature for longer than 30 days. Also, do not use insulin after the expiration date has passed. These are general storage guidelines, but formulations vary, so be sure to read your product’s package insert carefully.

Before giving an injection, take a look at the insulin to make sure it appears normal.

Types of insulin

There are several types of insulin: rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate (basal), and long-acting insulin.

  • Rapid-acting insulin is the type that starts working in 15 minutes and lasts for several hours (usually less than five), such as insulin lispro (Humalog), insulin aspart (Novolog), or insulin glulisine (Apidra). It should be clear and doesn’t need to be mixed.
  • Short-acting or regular insulin (Humulin or Novolin), starts to work within 30 to 60 minutes and usually lasts about five to eight hours. It is also clear.
  • Intermediate insulin — the type that takes two or more hours to kick in but lasts for about 10 to 16 hours (such as NPH) — should be cloudy, but it shouldn’t have any clumps or crystals.
  • Lantus (insulin glargine) and Levemir (insulin detemir) are both long-acting insulins. They can last up to 26 hours and are both clear in appearance.

No matter which medication you get, if the insulin doesn’t look right, you may want to call a pharmacist to discuss it before using it. If you can’t get your questions answered, throw it out.

If you’re using intermediate-acting insulin, you’ll have to gently mix the product before giving the injection. Simply roll the bottle a few times between your palms. Don’t shake the bottle, because shaking can cause clumps.

Expert Q&A: Diabetes Basics

Preparing for the injection

Gather everything you’ll need: the insulin bottle, a syringe with a new needle, an alcohol wipe (or a cotton ball dipped in alcohol), and an opaque, heavy-duty plastic container with a lid for discarding the syringe and needle when you’re finished. It’s a good idea to keep the

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