Many people with diabetes use insulin syringes (often multiple times a day) to administer the insulin dose prescribed by their treating doctor. While in type 1 diabetes, the body can’t make its own insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, in type 2 diabetes, the body can’t use insulin efficiently or make enough of it, prompting the use of insulin injection. According to healthline.com, insulin can be given in different ways: syringe, pen, or pump, which is usually decided in consultation with the doctor depending on one’s insulin dose, comfort level, and cost factors. Many a time, however, these syringes are often used and reused by people for weeks or even months at a stretch, experts say. But should syringes, even if being used by only one person, be reused?
According to Dr Shuchin Bajaj, founder director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, reusing insulin pen needles could lead to an increase in the bacterial growth on the needle which could make one experience pain when injecting. This, in turn, can lead to bruising and/or bleeding when inserting or withdrawing the needle, along with an increased risk of lipohypertrophy (lumpy skin), and the risk of the very fine tip of the needle breaking off.
More than that, reusing an insulin needle could potentially lead to severe infection, particularly in immunocompromised patients, as noted in a 2020 case where a 71-year-old female patient developed abdominal primary cutaneous mucormycosis, reported MPR, an e-prescribing service for healthcare professionals.
At the 2017- Forum for Injection Technique and Therapy Expert Recommendations (Fitter) India, experts pointed out that needle re-use is “disturbingly high”. Quoting the global insulin injection technique questionnaire survey (ITQ), conducted among 14,000 patients from over 400 centres in 42 countries, the forum noted that a total of 55.8 percent of interviewed patients reuse their syringes for insulin use, mostly for convenience or to save costs. The survey also highlighted that about 40 percent used their pen needles more than five times.
They further that the “shortest needles (currently 4mm in pens and 6mm in syringes) are safe, effective, and less painful and should be the first line of choice in all patient categories”.
“Shorter needles can provide safety from injecting into the muscle, as an insulin injection in the muscle may lead to hypoglycemia,” Subhankar Chowdhury, professor and head, Department of Endocrinology, IPGMER and SSKM Hospital, Kolkata, said at the forum.
Pre-sterilised insulin syringes should not be re-sterilised by an individual as it is dangerous and may result in an injection abscess, Dr Anil Bhoraskar, senior diabetologist, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim and secretary, Diabetic Association of India (Scientific Section) told indianexpress.com.
“Insulin syringes as well as needles are to be used only once and then discarded after use. Additionally, reusing needles is not advisable because they become blunt and hurt more. Even if the injection is only administered once each day, the syringes and needles needs to be changed regularly. It is advised not to interchange needles for two different brands of injections,” he said.
Dr Bhoraskar warned that continuing to use the same syringe “could potentially have a negative impact on health and result in hospitalisation“. “Also, never use the same syringe on two different people since this could spread infection. A blunt needle can result in a hematoma, so diabetic patients who are also on blood thinners should avoid using the needles more than once,” he said.
How to safely dispose off syringes and lancets?
According to United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
*After you’ve given yourself an insulin shot, put your syringe directly into a strong plastic or metal container with a tight cap or lid. After you use a lancet, you can put it into the same container.
*Don’t try to bend, break, or put the cap back on your needle…you might hurt yourself!
*When the container is full and tightly sealed with heavy-duty tape, throw it out in the trash. Don’t put this container in your recycling bin.