Diabetes Knowledge

10 tips for a fear of needles with diabetes (+1 bonus!)

5/27/2015 by Scott Johnson

It is what it is, right? When living with type 1 diabetes there's no getting around the jab of a needle. Whether it's from an insulin pen, a syringe or a pump infusion set, you have to do it. Ilka asked our team for tips on dealing with a fear of shots and needles, and here's what she found...

For some, needles are no big deal. For others, each injection is a challenge to overcome – even after many years.

The reasons are usually different, and no matter how necessary it is (we all know it, logically) who can criticize? Is there anything normal about stabbing yourself with a sharp metal object? I think not!

We have a lot of diabetes experience here at mySugr, collectively more than 150 years under our belts. And who better to ask for tips and tricks for overcoming a fear of needles/needle phobia than a bunch of people living well with diabetes?

1. Injectors

Clara: I didn't do my own injections right away. The day where everything changed was when I watched another girl my age in the hospital do her own injection. I thought, "if she can do it, so can I!" But some time later I developed an "injection-crisis" again and used an injection device, which hides the needle completely, to help me get through it.

2. Build Confidence

Marlis: I've been helping children with diabetes for a long time, and fear of needles is very common. It can really help if mom or dad offers to let the child inject them, or even put in a pump infusion set. When those little ones see that you trust them to poke you and that it doesn't hurt when they put the needle in it builds a lot of confidence and trust. Another step is to watch mom or dad do an injection and see that it's fine. I have often let the kids inject me and they were so incredibly proud afterward.

3. Change Therapy

Frank: This isn't an option for everyone, of course. But I really hated doing shots, and this was actually one of the main reasons I switched to insulin pump therapy. This way I was able to trade 8-12 shots per day for 1 infusion set change every 2-3 days.

4. Easy - RUN!

Fredrik: Well, of course, this isn't the solution. But it was definitely worth a try to my 4-year-old brain at diagnosis! My escape from the hospital ended earlier than planned when I was caught in the Stockholm subway.

My tip for everyone who thinks they will accidently hit something while injecting ... let's think about it:

  • a needle is from 4mm to 12.7mm long
  • how thin is the skin and fat on your abdomen or thighs? Take a look, you'll be amazed.
  • then think about how deep inside are your organs floating?
  • and now imagine how long the needle would have to be in order to hit something.

Well? Still afraid? The pain during injections is a reaction of your nerves. Nerves are actually pretty stupid, but you're not! Y'know what this is about. It's a tiny little need that keeps you alive, and that's what it boils down to.

5. Distraction

Anne: I was initially very afraid of injections. My family and friends helped by talking to me and getting me very involved in a conversation so I was not focused on the poke!

6. Cold Spoon

Kyle: Personally I don't have any problems with injections. But I've done a lot of work in diabetes camps and have seen a lot of different approaches to help those who struggle with being afraid of needles. One of the most simple and effective methods is to put a frozen spoon or ice cube (wrapped in a handkerchief or napkin) on the injection site for a few minutes before injecting. The cold has a numbing effect and makes the injection hurt less.

7. Outsmart Myself

Lukas: Injecting is still a big issue for me. I just can't get used to it. At first it took me 15 minutes until I finally inserted the needle. And it's all a mind game with me. My advice: just do not think about it. Not even for one second. Get the insulin pen, dial in the dose, and insert it. All this so quickly and automatically that the brain has no time to think about the fact I'm about to jab a needle into myself. For me, it works very well! I know it may sound harsh, but we type-1ers can't mess around when it comes time for our shot. So why not just get it over with quickly?

8. Observe and learn from others

Scott: I know that injecting quickly usually hurts much less than going slow, but I still struggle to do it. I'm often a little jealous as I watch others with diabetes do their injections so quickly and be done with it. It helps give me the courage to do the same.

9. Change your needle

Anton: I was diagnosed at the age of 3 years old, so I've grown up doing shots. It's never been an issue for me. But to avoid unnecessary pain during an injection it's important to use a new needle. Have you ever seen what a needle looks like after being used a few times? Scary!

10. Pressure

Ilka: A simple trick, but one that's always worked well for me. Simply press down with your thumb for about 20 seconds right on the place you intend to inject. The area will be briefly less well supplied with blood and the injection will hurt less.

11. Creams and patches (BONUS)

Veerle: There are creams (eg EMLA) and patches that numb the area and make the injection less painful. Some are prescription products, and others can be purchased over the counter. These often have to be applied some time beforehand so they can absorb and start working, so some pre-planning is necessary.

Great bunch of tips and tricks, Ilka! Thanks for rounding them up!

Scott Johnson

Almost famous for his addiction to Diet Coke, Scott has lived well with diabetes for almost forty years and is currently the Patient Success Manager, USA for mySugr. He's an active pioneer in the diabetes social media space and along with his work at mySugr, he manages his award-winning blog, scottsdiabetes.com when time allows.