Insulin technology has vastly improved in recent years, and so has the technology used to administer it. One of the newest advancements in diabetes tech is perhaps also one of the most exciting: an inhaled insulin that does not have to be administered by injection.
This inhaled short-acting insulin, called Afrezza, is now available to many type 1 diabetes patients in the form of small cartridges which contain tiny nanoparticles of insulin. When inhaled, these particles are delivered swiftly to the lungs, where they’re able to gain access to the bloodstream almost instantly, alleviating any issues of high blood glucose and helping the body process its blood glucose to use as energy in the same way that injected insulin would.
On top of being easier and less painful to take, this new type of insulin is also expected to help patients whose bodies have more trouble absorbing the insulin they inject because of scar tissue buildup.
“Oftentimes, I meet a patient who is taking multiple daily insulin injections,” said Dr. Stephanie Redmond, pharmacist and Ridgeview diabetes educator. “They are taking injections three to seven plus times a day, and what happens is you develop scar tissue all over your abdomen where you are continuously injecting that. And when you go to inject insulin into scar tissue, it doesn’t get absorbed, and it doesn’t work and you’re left with a high blood sugar after you eat. So changing to an inhaled option could also be an advantage for those patients.”
Inhaled insulin isn’t necessarily better at doing its job than injected insulin is, but it does prevent a less painful and unpleasant option to patients and helps avoid the unsightly scars from regular injections. It also frees some patients from the discomfort of carrying around an insulin pump attached to their bodies.
“I have patients who’ve been on insulin pumps for a while, and they want to go on a pump break, frankly, for the reason that they are developing scar tissue where that infusion set is,” Dr. Redmond said. “I think this gives patients a sense of freedom that they don’t have to be hooked up to something. But, then again, a pump has advantages that allow you to more fine-tune a dose that you are getting throughout the day.”
Perhaps inhaled insulin isn’t right for everyone, but it’s certainly going to provide a much-needed short-term break for some patients and a long-term solution for others. In a world where diabetes is common and diabetes-related burnout is as well, it never hurts to have another option!
Afrezza is FDA approved and covered by many insurers for adult use, and it’s undergoing clinical trials for children ages 8-12. The medication is already helping people like Kevin Michelizzi, who has permanently replaced his injected insulin with breathable insulin. For him, inhaled insulin has proven effective and easy to use, although he does warn others considering the drug that it doesn’t take all the work out of having diabetes.
“You do have to be willing to manage your diabetes; if you aren’t, then you are going to have the same problem that you have with any other tool,” said Michelizzi.
Learn more about the inhaled insulin option and Michelizzi’s experience with it in the video below.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?