Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin: Facing Needle Anxiety

For those with type 2 diabetes, there may come a day when the doctor says, “I recommend you take insulin to help control your blood sugar.”

The need for insulin may be temporary or permanent, but either way it means learning to give self-injections, something those with needle anxiety anticipate with dread.

Here are a few tips, from diabetes educator Erin Kelly RN, BSN, CDE, offered to diminish self-injection dread in people faced with insulin use, or who worry about that possibility:

  • Short Distance, Short Needle. If the only needles you have encountered were for vaccinations, or to deliver novocaine, your insulin anxiety may be tied to the size of those needles. Dental syringes are long to accommodate our big mouths, and vaccine needles must reach into muscle tissue deep beneath our skin.
  • Insulin needles are smaller because the injection goes into a fat layer close to our skin’s surface. Many are now the length of an earring post (4 to 5 mm), and about the thickness of three human hairs (.01 inches). This makes them about a quarter of their former size.
  • Out of Sight and Mind. If just looking at a needle - long or short - makes you quiver, there may be a shield for that. Some pre-loaded insulin pens have needle-hiding shields built into them. For other pens, there is a snap-on version available.
  • Location, Location. Bruising at injection sites is uncommon since there are few blood vessels in fat tissue. Avoid injecting into more muscular areas, and places where capillaries or veins are visible; or simply choose fattier injection sites such as the stomach or upper thigh.
  • Numb or Buzz It Up. There are several ways to numb an injection site, including ice cubes, and topical gel or cream anesthetics—usually containing prilocaine or lidocaine. You might also purchase a gadget called Buzzy (looks like a bee) that uses ice and vibration to overwhelm the body’s pain signals, minimizing needle discomfort. A mini Buzzy is roughly 4 x 1 x 3 inches, and costs around $40.00.
  • Access An Educator. No need to struggle alone when a diabetes educator can help you overcome anxiety. For instance, just watching an educator give the initial insulin injection may relieve worry. Many people are surprised how little discomfort they feel, making the prospect of self-injection less daunting.

Action is often the best antidote for anxiety, so if needles are your nemesis consider these tips, research others, and keep talking to those who can help.

Sources: Joslin Diabetes Center; Buzzy/Amazon
Photo credit: Heather Aitken

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