Diabetes in children: Giving insulin shots to a child

Introduction

Insulin is available only in an injectable form that is given into the fatty tissue just under the skin. Most people use insulin in an injection, or shot. While it can also be given through an insulin pump or jet injector, this information does not pertain to these devices. Get information from your child's doctor about how to use these properly.

You will need to give your child's insulin until he or she is able to give his or her own injections. Once you get over the initial anxiety, insulin injections will become a routine part of your day. It's easy to learn the basics of preparing the insulin (drawing it up into a syringe) and then injecting it. The new thinner, shorter needles on insulin syringes make injections much less uncomfortable than they used to be.

The three most important elements of success in giving insulin injections include:

  • Making sure you have the right dose of insulin, especially if you are giving two types of insulin in the same syringe.
  • Practicing how to give an injection.
  • Storing insulin properly so that each dose will work effectively.
 

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. It lets sugar (glucose) enter body cells, where it is used for energy. It also helps the body store extra sugar in muscle and liver cells. The stored sugar can be released later and used for energy when needed.

Insulin for injection comes in small glass bottles, or vials, and cartridges; both are sealed with a rubber lid. One vial or cartridge contains many doses. To remove a dose of insulin from:

  • A vial: Use an insulin syringe. The syringe is also used to inject the insulin.
  • A cartridge: Use a pen-shaped device called an insulin pen. The cartridge fits inside the pen and the dose of insulin is set with a dial on the outside of the pen. The pen is used to give the insulin. Both disposable and reusable insulin pens are available. Each pen operates slightly differently.

Note: If your child is using an insulin pen, talk with your child's doctor or pharmacist about how to use the pen properly. Giving insulin with these pens is not covered in this information.

To give an insulin injection, the needle is inserted through the skin. The medicine is pushed from the syringe into fatty tissue just below the skin. Insulin usually is injected into the abdomen, upper arm, buttocks, or thigh.

Your child may need to take two types of insulin at the same time. Because most types of insulin that are prescribed to be taken at the same time can be mixed together, you can give both doses in the same syringe.

Test Your Knowledge

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin lets sugar (glucose) enter body cells, where it is used for energy. It also helps the body store extra sugar in muscle and liver cells. The stored sugar can be released later and used for energy when needed.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin lets sugar (glucose) enter body cells, where it is used for energy. It also helps the body store extra sugar in muscle and liver cells. The stored sugar can be released later and used for energy when needed.

  •  

To withdraw a single dose of insulin from a vial, I need to use a syringe.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    To withdraw a single dose of insulin from a vial, you do need to use a syringe.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    To withdraw a single dose of insulin from a vial, you do need to use a syringe.

  •  

To give an injection of insulin, the needle of the syringe is inserted into the skin and the medicine is pushed into the fatty tissue just under the skin.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    To give an injection of insulin, the needle of the syringe is inserted into the skin and the medicine is pushed into the fatty tissue just under the skin.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    To give an injection of insulin, the needle of the syringe is inserted into the skin, and the medicine is pushed into the fatty tissue just under the skin.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

If your child has type 1 diabetes, his or her body no longer produces insulin. Because insulin is not available, sugar cannot enter body cells to be used for energy. As a result, the blood sugar level rises. Insulin injections are necessary to keep blood sugar levels within a target range when a person has type 1 diabetes.

If your child has type 2 diabetes, either the pancreas isn't able to produce enough insulin or your child's body tissues have become resistant to insulin. Children with type 2 diabetes may need to take oral diabetes pills to control their blood sugar.

Your child with type 2 diabetes may need insulin if eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and taking diabetes pills have not kept his or her blood sugar levels within a target range. Your child may now need insulin injections either alone or in combination with oral medicine.

Test Your Knowledge

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body tissues are resistant to insulin.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body tissues are resistant to insulin. Because insulin is not available, sugar cannot enter body cells to be used for energy. As a result, blood sugar level rises.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body tissues are resistant to insulin. Because insulin is not available, sugar cannot enter body cells to be used for energy. As a result, blood sugar level rises.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Your health professional will help you and your child learn to prepare and give insulin injections. If your child is age 10 or older, he or she may be able to give insulin with supervision. Here are some simple steps to help you and your child learn this task.

Get ready

To get ready to give an insulin injection, follow these steps.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and running water. Dry them thoroughly. If your child is going to help, wash his or her hands well.
  2. Gather the supplies. You will need an insulin syringe, the vial(s) of insulin, and an alcohol wipe or a cotton ball dipped in alcohol. Keep the supplies in a bag or kit so your child can carry the supplies wherever he or she goes.
  3. Check the insulin bottle label and contents. When an insulin vial is used for the first time, write the date on the bottle. On the 30th day after opening, throw the bottle with any remaining insulin away. Insulin may not work as well after 30 days of use.

Prepare the injection

The preparation will depend on whether you are giving one type of insulin or mixing two types of insulin in the injection.

Prepare the site

Before giving the injection, take the time you need to do the following:

  • Choose the place (injection site). See the diagram of injection areas for where to give insulin injections. The stomach is the most common area. If you give the injections in different places on your child's body each day (rotate sites), use the same site at the same time of the day. If your child will be physically active soon after the injection, use a site that will have the least movement in the activity. The absorption of insulin is faster in an area that gets movement, which could lead to low blood sugar. For example, if you give your child an insulin shot right before he or she plays soccer, give the shot in the stomach, rather than in the leg.
  • An example of rotating sites:
    • At breakfast, give the insulin into one of your child's arms.
    • At lunch, give the insulin into one of your child's legs.
    • At dinner, give the insulin into your child's abdomen.
  • Clean the site. If you use alcohol to clean the skin before you give the injection, let it dry.
  • Have your child relax the muscles in the area of the injection.

Give the injection

Follow these steps for giving an insulin injection.

  1. Slightly pinch a fold of skin between your fingers and thumb of one hand.
  2. Hold the syringe like a pencil close to the site, keeping your fingers off the plunger. Usually the syringe is at a 90-degree angle to the skin site. If you are giving the injection to a small child with little fat, you may want to insert the needle at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Bend your wrist and quickly push the needle all the way into the pinched-up area. Then let go of the pinched-up area.
  4. Push the plunger of the syringe all the way in so the insulin goes into the fatty tissue. Count to 5 before taking the needle out, so that some of the insulin doesn't "leak" out.
  5. Take the needle out slowly at the same angle that you inserted it. If your child bleeds a little, apply pressure over the injection site with your finger, a cotton ball, or piece of gauze. Do not rub the area. Check your child's blood sugar more frequently on the days when bleeding occurs. This is because blood means you have hit a blood vessel. When the insulin goes right into the blood stream, instead of just into the skin, it works more quickly and can lead to low blood sugar.
  6. Replace the cover over the needle. Although syringe manufacturers do not recommend it, some people reuse their syringes until the needle becomes dull or bent. If you plan to reuse your syringe, see precautions when reusing syringes.

View the slideshow on giving an insulin injection into the stomach using an insulin pen to see photographs of a child using an insulin pen to give an injection in the stomach.

View the slideshow on giving an insulin injection into the arm to see photographs of a child giving an insulin injection in the arm using a syringe.

Cleanup and storage

After giving your child's injection, be sure to:

  • Store the insulin properly so that each dose from the bottle will work effectively.
  • Dispose of the used syringe and lancet. Do not throw a used syringe, needle, or lancet in a trash can. You can dispose of them in a metal container with a lid that screws on or that you tape down tightly. You also can buy special containers for disposing of used needles and syringes. You can buy a small needle clipper device that breaks the needle off the syringe and stores it safely for disposal. Talk with your local trash disposal agency or your health professional about how to get rid of the container.

Other tips for success and safety

Some tips to help you be safe and successful in giving your child insulin injections include the following:

  • Teach other family members how to give insulin injections. Have at least one other person who can prepare and give your child's insulin injection in an emergency. It's a good idea to let this person give your child an injection periodically for practice; then it will not be as unfamiliar when an emergency occurs.
  • Do not mix other medicine with insulin without your doctor's instruction. Some types of insulin cannot be mixed together. See precautions when mixing insulin for more information.
  • Never share syringes with another person because of the risk of getting diseases that can be transferred through blood, such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or infection of the liver (hepatitis).

Test Your Knowledge

The first step in preparing insulin from a bottle is to roll the bottle gently between your hands.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    The first step in preparing insulin from a bottle is to roll the bottle gently between your hands. This will warm the insulin if you have been keeping the bottle in the refrigerator. Roll a bottle of cloudy insulin until the white powder has dissolved.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    The first step in preparing insulin from a bottle is to roll the bottle gently between your hands. This will warm the insulin if you have been keeping the bottle in the refrigerator. Roll a bottle of cloudy insulin until the white powder has dissolved.

  •  

When you are preparing a cloudy and a clear insulin to give a mixed dose, which do you put into the syringe first?

  • Cloudy insulin
    This answer is incorrect.

    When you are preparing a cloudy and a clear insulin to give a mixed dose, you put the clear insulin into the syringe first. The correct answer is b.

  • Clear insulin
    This answer is correct.

    When you are preparing a cloudy and a clear insulin to give a mixed dose, you put the clear insulininto the syringe first.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start preparing and giving insulin injections to your child.

Talk with your child's doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it when you visit the doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins on the pages where you have questions.

If you would like more information on preparing and giving insulin injections, the following resources are available:

Online Resource

Children With Diabetes
Web Address: www.childrenwithdiabetes.com
 

This Web site is for children with diabetes and for their families. It offers a variety of information and resources, from basic facts about diabetes to legal support, as well as school information for students and their teachers, diabetes camps throughout the United States, chat rooms for children and for their parents, and a valuable link-site connection to other diabetes-related Web sites.


Organization

American Diabetes Association (ADA)
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA  22311
Phone: 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383)
E-mail: AskADA@diabetes.org
Web Address: www.diabetes.org
 

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is a national organization for health professionals and consumers. Almost every state has a local office. ADA sets the standards for the care of people with diabetes. Its focus is on research for the prevention and treatment of all types of diabetes. ADA provides patient and professional education mainly through its publications, which include the monthly magazine Diabetes Forecast, books, brochures, cookbooks and meal planning guides, and pamphlets. ADA also provides information for parents about caring for a child with diabetes.


More information about children with diabetes can be found in these topics:

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Last Updated: December 3, 2008

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