Before the mid-1950s, people with diabetes injected insulin using glass syringes with detachable steel needles. Between injections, the glass syringes were boiled and the needles were soaked in alcohol to keep them as germ-free as possible. To reduce the pain of the injection, people would sharpen their needles on a sharpening stone.
Today’s insulin syringes provide a more comfortable injection because the needles are thinner, sharper and are specially lubricated.
All insulin syringes in the United States are for U-100 insulin, meaning that each cubic centimeter (cc) or milliliter (ml) of insulin contains 100 units of insulin. All of these syringes have an orange cap.
This may not be the case if you travel outside of the United States. Never use a syringe with a red cap or a red measurement scale with U-100 insulin. Red-capped syringes are meant for U-40 insulin, a weaker dilution of insulin. For U-40 insulin, which is no longer available in the United States, each cc contains 40 units. For this reason, make sure you take sufficient insulin and syringes to meet your needs when traveling.
There are three things you need to know when choosing the right syringe: syringe size, needle gauge and needle length.
1. Syringe Size: Capacity and Measurement Scale Increments
Using the syringe size that best meets your needs may increase your ability to draw up an accurate insulin dose.
Insulin syringes are available in sizes of 1 cc (holds up to 100 units), 1/2 cc (holds up to 50 units), and 3/10 cc (holds up to 30 units).
- The 1-cc syringe is generally marked with a line for every 2-units, that is, 2, 4, 6, 8. Some companies now have a 1-cc syringe marked in 1-unit increments. You must choose 1-cc syringes if you are taking more than 50 units of insulin at one time, or you can divide a dose that is greater than 50 units into more than one injection and use the 1/2 cc syringes that are marked in single-unit increments.
- The 1/2 cc “low-dose” syringe is marked with a line for every unit. It may be easier for you to draw up an accurate dose of insulin with this syringe, particularly if you are drawing up an odd-number dose of insulin.
- The 3/10 cc syringe may be marked in either 1-unit or 1/2- unit markings. This is the preferred syringe if you are taking small doses of insulin (30 units or less). The markings on this syringe are farther apart and easier to read. This syringe may be particularly useful if you have vision problems. For children and insulin-sensitive adults, the version of the 3/10-cc syringe are farther apart and easier to read. This syringe may be particularly useful if you have vision problems. For children and insulin-sensitive adults, the version of the 3/10-cc syringe with 1/2-unit markings is especially appreciated.
If you have difficulty reading the unit markings on the syringe, you might consider using an insulin syringe magnifier, which can be purchased along with the syringes at a pharmacy. This device magnifies the entire scale of the syringe, making it easier for you to see and draw up your correct dose. It also holds the vial of insulin and helps you to guide the needle into the insulin vial.
2. Needle Gauge
Today syringe manufacturers realize that no two people with diabetes are alike.
Because of this, manufacturers offer you choices not only of syringe size but also needle lengths and gauges (needle thickness). Insulin syringe needles are thinner than ever before and have a finer point that penetrates the skin smoothly. Insulin syringe gauges are available in gauges of 28, 29, 30 and 31. The higher the needle gauge, the thinner the needle. Many people prefer the thinner needles since this provides a more comfortable injection.
3. Needle Length
You can now choose between a standard needle length and a shorter needle. Insulin syringe needle lengths are available in the standard or original half-inch (12.7 mm) length or the short five-sixteenths of an inch (8 mm) length. Many prefer the shorter, thinner needle because it looks less frightening, and many people say that short needles are less painful than the standard-length needle. If it is necessary for you to switch from an oral diabetes medicine to insulin, the short needle might make this transition easier for you.
The short needle can also prevent you from injecting your insulin into the muscle instead of the subcutaneous tissue, which can cause increased pain and a change in blood sugar control. Injecting insulin into the muscle will cause the insulin to be absorbed too quickly and might result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Despite the short needle’s appeal, it might not be suitable for all people taking insulin, especially people who are overweight, since a too-shallow injection can result in insulin leaking rather than being absorbed into the bloodstream.
You should consult with your healthcare professional before changing to the shorter needle.
UltiGuard Insulin Syringe Line
UltiMed, Inc., a leading U.S. manufacturer and distributor of hypodermic insulin syringes, has launched their new patented FDA-approved UltiGuard insulin syringe line.
The UltiGuard system consists of a pearlescent plastic dispenser/disposal device and 100 sterilized and packaged insulin syringes. The UltiGuard system is the first home dispenser and disposal system of its kind and provides a means of convenient and safe syringe disposal for the millions of Americans living with diabetes.
“Safety concerns about needle disposal and exposure is a growing concern,” says Tom Erickson, spokesperson of UltiMed, Inc. “The UltiGuard syringe line is the first product that makes sharps disposal easy, convenient and cost effective for consumers.”
For more information, log on to www.ulti-care.com or call (877) 858-4633.
How to Dispose of Your Insulin Syringes and Lancets
Despite the fact that over one billion syringes (sharps) are discarded each year, there are no federal regulations for the safe disposal of home sharps.
Because there are limited options for sharps disposal, many people simply discard their sharps in the public waste system. This can lead to injury and infection of sanitation workers or other people who might come in contact with the used sharps.
The Environmental Protection Agency Web site suggests that you place your sharps in a hard plastic or metal container with a screw-on or tightly secured lid. Your state or local health department may have speciific regulations about disposal of used medical sharps. Check with them to avoid a potential fine.
You might also consider purchasing a clipping device from your pharmacy that holds approximately a year’s supply of needles. This device contains the needles in an inaccessible compartment and protects you from the detached needle. Some people like to use this device because it prevents others from possibly using your syringes or getting “stuck” with a dirty needle.
All sharps, whether the needles have been destroyed or not, can be placed in a sharps container, a hard plastic detergent or bleach bottle or a coffee can. When the container is full, secure the lid with duct tape and dispose of it with the household trash, unless that is specifically prohibited by local regulations.
Never dispose of this container with your recyclables. You might want to mark the container containing the sharps “Not for Recycling.”
Visit http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/other/medical dispose2.pdf and http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/nonhw/househld/hhw/han-care.pdf, or call (800) 424-9346 for more detailed information on the safe disposal of syringes and lancets.