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Type 1 Diabetes and Your Child: Using Insulin

Your child’s pancreas no longer makes insulin. So the missing insulin must be replaced. Insulin can’t be taken by mouth because stomach acids destroy it before it can get into the bloodstream. Instead, insulin is given by injection into the fat just under the skin. It’s not hard to learn to give insulin injections.

Types of insulin

There are 3 basic types of insulin:

  • Fast-acting insulin. This is given before meals to cover mealtime blood sugar.

  • Intermediate-acting insulin. This takes longer to work than fast-acting insulin. But it stays in the bloodstream longer.

  • Long-acting insulin. This provides a small amount in the bloodstream at all times.

Your child will likely use more than 1 type of insulin.

Storing insulin

Tips to storing insulin include: 

  • Have a backup supply of insulin stored in the refrigerator. Check the expiration dates on the bottles. If an expiration date has passed, throw the bottle away. 

  • Store insulin that is currently being used at room temperature. You can keep the insulin you are using now on the kitchen counter.But throw it away 28 days after opening it, even if it isn’t used up yet. 

  • Keep insulin cool. Make sure it doesn’t get above 86°F (30°C).

  • Don't freeze or shake insulin. Insulin won't work well after it's been frozen. And shaking it can create air bubbles in the vial.

  • Don't use insulin if it looks different for any reason. Some insulins are supposed to be cloudy, others are clear, but they should not change. Call your doctor or pharmacist if you're not certain about how the medication looks.

Insulin delivery methods

Tips for delivering insulin include: 

  • Needle and syringe. This is the most common, least expensive choice. It is covered by most insurance plans. This method lets you mix 2 kinds of insulin in the same syringe.

  • Insulin pen. This device includes a needle and a cartridge of insulin. Pens make it easy to measure the insulin and prepare the shot. In public places, a pen may attract less attention. It may be more convenient than a traditional needle.

  • Insulin infusion pump. This can deliver insulin continuously in very tiny amounts. A pump is about the size of a pager. It is attached to your child’s body by a long, thin tube. It is worn all the time. Pumps are expensive. But some insurance companies cover them. Talk with your child’s healthcare team about the benefits and risks of pump therapy for your child.

  • Inhaled form of insulin. This is now available for adults. It's being studied for possible use in the future by children. At this time, for adults with type 1 diabetes, long-acting insulin must still be injected when the inhaled insulin is used.

Tips that may help

Recommendations include the following: 

  • Ask your child’s healthcare team about devices that block the child’s view of the needle.

  • To keep skin healthy, change injection sites each time. Sites used most often are the upper arms, front of thigh, and fatty skin of the belly. 

  • Give yourself an injection of sterile distilled water or saline given to you by your healthcare team, using an insulin syringe. That way, you’ll have a better idea of how an insulin injection feels.

  • Teach your child about diabetes and insulin injections. Use language that's right for your child's age. Adjust what you say as your child gets older. Your child's healthcare team can help you.

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