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Living with diabetes: syringes for insulin injection
LIVING WITH DIABETES: SYRINGES FOR INSULIN INJECTION
There are many different syringes of varying sizes for various medical purposes, but the insulin syringe has a special shape and markings to ensure that the dose of insulin is measured accurately.
It is essential to obtain the correct insulin syringe and learn how to use it.
Syringes are made of plastic and are disposable; that means that they are designed to be used once and then thrown away. Whether they can be used more than once is discussed later.
There are a number of brands of syringes available, but there are only two sizes of syringe. There is a 1 ml syringe which holds up to 100 units, and a 0.5 ml syringe which holds up to 50 units. Standards for manufacture of syringes ensure that the markings of the different syringes are similar, any syringe can be used with any of the available insulins, and the numbers marked on the syringe always refer to the number of units that has been drawn up.
1. The 0.5 ml syringe (Lo Dose)
This syringe measures up to 50 units, it is the best syringe for those people who need a small dose of insulin (less than 50 units). It has a long narrow barrel and the numbers on the syringe refer to the numbers of units. Marks on the syringe each represent one unit. This allows very accurate measurement of small doses.
2. The 1 ml syringe
This syringe measures up to 100 units and is used for those people, particularly teenagers and adults, who may need more than 50 units of insulin in one dose. As with the smaller syringe, the numbers on the syringe refer to the number of units, but in this syringe the marks on the barrel each represent two units.
Syringes are supplied with a fine needle attached and ready to use. All the recommended syringes are designed so that there is very little wasted space left at the tip of the syringe and in the end of the needle; these syringes are called 'minimal dead space' syringes, and they have the advantage over older syringes in that virtually all the insulin you draw up is given and none remains in the tip after the injection. This means almost no insulin is wasted and if you have to mix two insulins in the syringe before injection, then you can be sure the mixture remains in the correct proportions.
Can single-use plastic syringes be re-used?
Single use or disposable plastic syringes were intended to be used once and discarded. This would certainly be the practice in hospital where there would be a risk of transferring germs from one person to another if the syringe or needle were used a second time. This is not a risk at home.
Very many people with diabetes have re-used the same disposable syringe many times without any harmful effects. This is not surprising, because the possible contamination of the needle or syringe will be confined to harmless germs that live on that person's skin. Provided there is no infection in the skin (for example boils, pustules or infected scratches) then these germs are quite harmless. The body is used to them and they aren't causing trouble. Insulin has a preservative added to the bottle which keeps it sterile and this preservative then protects the inside of the syringe after use. There is no need to wash out the syringe or sterilize it.
It is of course essential, if you use the syringe a second time, to replace the cap over the needle immediately and keep the syringe covered in a clean and cool place such as the refrigerator. If the syringe were handled by someone with dirty hands or contaminated in any way it must be discarded. One objection to using a syringe several times is that the needle may become blunt and may hurt more as it enters the skin. Few people find that this is a problem if the needle is just used twice.
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