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Insulin Storage, Transportation
and Use

Achieving normal blood glucose readings can be challenging, but it is a most worthwhile objective. Research has shown that keeping blood sugar levels within near normal range can prevent or delay many of the complications associated with diabetes. Careful insulin storage and use can be important factors in good blood sugar control.

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Why Insulin Injections?
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar levels. The pancreas of a type 1 diabetic person may not produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels, resulting in high blood sugar. If this is the case, the hormone must then be introduced artificially into the system.

While the pancreas also produces enzymes used in digestion, insulin is destroyed by the digestive system. This means that with current technology, supplementation cannot be oral. To be usable, insulin must be administered by injection. Syringe, jet injectors, pre-filled insulin pens, and insulin pumps are all methods used to administer insulin today.

No matter which method of delivery you choose, it's important to rotate the injection sites you use. Repeated use of the same sites may cause scarring or other forms of tissue damage that can lead to decreased absorption. Move at least one inch from prior site locations, preferably using a different area of the body for each injection throughout the day. The balance is tricky, as too much insulin will result in hypoglycemia and low blood sugar symptoms, too little, and high blood sugar continues.

Learning how different areas of your body absorb insulin is important. Many people find faster or slower absorption depending on the site used for a specific injection.

Low blood sugar symptoms may be noticed if you use your abdomen when you previously only used your thighs for injections. On the other hand, by using sites with quicker absorption ability, the damage caused by prolonged high blood sugar can be avoided.

When using a pump, site rotation becomes even more important. Because infusion sets may be left in place for 48 to 72 hours, the possibility of skin damage is increased. Extra care must be used to avoid infection and scarring.

Insulin Storage
Because insulin is vital to daily functioning, it must be stored and transported with care. All types of insulin are susceptible to environmental factors such as excessive heat and freezing. To avoid damaging your insulin, consider the following insulin storage precautions.
  • Store unopened insulin in the refrigerator.
  • Store insulin that will be used within 30 days at normal room temperature.
  • If you won't finish a vial within 30 days, store it in the refrigerator. Remove the vial from the refrigerator 30 minutes before preparing an injection to avoid the stinging sensation reported by some insulin users. Return it to the refrigerator until next use.
  • Never leave insulin in the glove box of your car; the temperature extremes can degrade the insulin and cause it to spoil.
  • For cold weather travel, keep your insulin in a pocket close to your body.
  • For hot weather, carry a cooler with an ice pack if necessary; be sure the insulin is kept cool but does not freeze.
  • Never use insulin past its expiration date or if its appearance is altered.
Insulin and Air Travel
Many precautions formerly employed by airlines have been altered due to heightened security concerns. If you plan to travel by air, be sure to check with your chosen airline well in advance of your travel dates to determine their specific regulations. Sometimes letters signed by your physician and/or original packaging with prescription labels are required for insulin and syringes.

You never know when low blood sugar symptoms may appear (or high blood sugar, for that matter) and you'll need to be adequately prepared for any eventuality. Prepare for insulin storage should you have a layover or should the temperatures en route become extreme.

Safe Disposal
It won't take more than a few injections for you to realize there's quite a bit of potentially hazardous material involved with insulin delivery. Check with your local health department regarding the ultimate disposal of this waste and consider these ideas for temporary storage in the meantime.
  • Purchase what my 4-year-old calls a "needle eater," a small, inexpensive device that snips the needle off of a syringe to prevent it from being re-used or inadvertently sticking someone.
  • Empty bleach or laundry detergent bottles make excellent containers for used lancets and syringes.
  • A clean peanut butter jar or other similar sized plastic jar makes a great disposal container when traveling.
Store all potentially hazardous materials out of reach of children and animals.
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Last modified 18 September 2006
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