The Life of a Needle (Continued)


When to Dispose of Needles

The other sharp that many of us use, and in the fullness of time most people with diabetes need to use, is the dreaded "needle." I can hear people wailing and gnashing their teeth and running for the hills at the mere use of the word.


Although I know you won't believe me until you experience it for yourself, taking a "shot" involves much less discomfort than lancing your finger.

So today's needles are not your Grandmother's needles. The evolution of the needle is one of shrinkage. They've gotten thinner and thinner and shorter and shorter. Needles come attached to syringes, come attachable to syringes, and come attached to little hubs that screw or snap onto pen delivery devices. Some modern needles look no bigger than an eyelash.

It's really pretty amazing, especially if you compare them to what we dFolk used in the olden days. Back then (after boiling your glass syringe on the stovetop to sterilize it) you sharpened your needle on a whetstone. No, really, you did. Then you used steel wool to remove burrs from the tip.

But reusable needles have gone the way of the Raphus cucullatus (the Dodo bird). All insulin needles—the same ones used for all other liquid diabetes medications—are now the disposable variety.

So when to dispose of them?

Well, it'll come as no surprise that the folks who make them will tell you to pitch them— in a properly certified sharps disposal container, of course—after one injection.

Of course, no one does. The people who make the needles know this too. One manufacturer even has before-and-after microscope images on their web site to show you just how ripped up their needle tips get after a single use. I dunno. If you have to use a microscope to show us the difference, is there a difference you can feel?

Now of course, injection needles don't and can't have the lifespan lancets do. For one thing, not only are they generally thinner, they're also hollow. That means the "skin" of the needles are mighty thin indeed. The tips get dull quickly, and they bend very, very easily. They can also "clog" if the medication dries up inside them between uses. So needle lifespan is governed by two separate issues: how many times do you stick it into your body (dulling the tip); and how long is it between uses (clog risk)?

Again, how thick your skin is comes into play, as does whether or not you inject through your clothing. There is nothing wrong with injecting through your shirt or jeans, but it'll most definitely trash your needle tip faster.

Beyond pain, the risks of overuse of a needle are bruising, and more importantly, the risk of not getting the right amount of medication. Especially if you're taking small dosages from a pen device, you'll probably have no way of knowing if you got the full amount of your medicine if the needle is partly plugged.

So, in weighing all those variables, how many shots can you get out of a needle? My rule of thumb for you here is based on time rather than pain. If you are a type 1 carrying a pen of fast-acting insulin, I think you'll be fine using one needle all day long for your 3-4 shots. You're shooting up enough to avoid clog risk on one hand, but not enough to totally trash the point of the needle on the other hand.  But if you are a type 2 taking a single daily injection of basal insulin, you should probably just go ahead a use a fresh needle each time because even though the point could last a couple more shots, the clog risk for the needle between the widely spaced injections is pretty high.

Bottom line, if you're taking several shots throughout the day, go ahead and use one needle again and again; but if it's 12 hours or more since the last shot, change the damn needle.

Wil Dubois is the author of four multi-award-winning books about diabetes. He is a PWD type 1, and is the diabetes coordinator for a rural non-profit clinic. Visit his blog, LifeAfterDX

Read more of Wil Dubois' columns here.

The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.



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Last Modified Date: May 01, 2014

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the benefits that made it cost-effective for me to go with the real healthcare (HSA) plan rather than the phony (HRA) plan is that my company is now covering "preventative" medicines at $0 copay. The formulary for these, as stated by CVS/Caremark (my pharmacy benefits provider), covers all test strips, lancets, and control solutions. I dutifully get my doctor to write up prescriptions for all of my testing needs, submit...
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