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Top tips for hassle-free self-injections

Injectable medications are used to treat many different conditions and have been for decades. As more injectable drugs are developed to treat rare and chronic conditions, the option to receive them at home has expanded. At-home injectables offer some convenience-based advantages to patients including the ability to schedule the injections around the patient’s time, not needing to travel, being at home in comfortable surroundings, and not needing an IV placement for an infusion.

However, the other side of the coin is that injecting at home can come with some stressors. For those who are not comfortable with injections, it can be challenging to self-inject. People who have difficulty with their hands, such as from arthritis, may need help with injecting. There is help available for self-injecting, starting with these tips. Before following any of these tips or starting any new injection regimen, consider consulting with a medical professional.

1. Use manufacturer resources

The best source of information about how to inject a medication is often from the company that makes it. Many companies have helpful instructions on their web sites that explain how to inject the medication they make. Some even have videos which go step by step through the injection process. If what’s available online isn’t enough, contacting the company may help. Some manufacturers have nurses available by phone or chat to help patients through their injections and any other questions about the medication. Always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and consult with them before beginning or changing any new injection regimen.  

2. Work with your healthcare team

Injectable medications come in different forms: pens, pre-filled syringes, or vials. Every drug manufacturer has a different delivery method, so it’s important to know how the device works. One way to learn how to self-inject with confidence is to bring the medication to the doctor’s office and inject it with their help. If going into the office is not possible, ask about a telehealth appointment. Having an extra set of eyes (and maybe hands) for at least the first injection can go a long way in helping understand how to do it at home.

3. Enlist a friend or family member

For some people, even after using all of the tips, self-injecting still isn’t the best option. If it’s not possible to go to a doctor’s office each time for the injection, having a friend or family member do it may help. This person might want some information on injecting, so it could be useful for them to come to a doctor’s appointment or telehealth appointment in order to learn more.

4. Relaxation

Easier said than done, but being in a more relaxed frame of mind can help in making an injection less painful. Creating a state of calm is going to look different for every person. It can include finding a quiet, comfortable space to inject, listening to soothing music, or having a pet nearby. One strategy to increase relaxation is to use diaphragmatic breathing, also called "belly breathing.”

5. Pain relief

Many patients are unfortunately familiar with painful procedures and treatments. Injections can sometimes also cause discomfort for certain patients. It might help to use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. It will be important to check with a physician about pain relievers, even those that are over the counter, to find out which one is best to use.

6. Numbing the injection area

For patients who can tolerate cold, using an ice pack on the injection area may be considered. I find the skin being a little numbed from the cold may cut down on the sensation of the injection and also help with any swelling that might occur after injecting. Putting an ice pack on the skin about 10 or 15 minutes before injecting may be helpful. Ice shouldn’t be put directly on the skin, instead, using a cold pack with a cover on it will be safer. If it’s necessary to use ice, put the ice in a plastic bag and cover it with a towel so it doesn’t directly touch the skin. It’s important to avoid using cold for too long, so skin isn’t damaged. Cold should be removed after about 10 or 15 minutes. Always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for site injection.

7. Room temperature medication

Some medications need to be refrigerated in order to keep them stable. Injecting a cold liquid may be uncomfortable for some people. Some manufacturers suggest letting the injector or pen warm up to room temperature to help. Be sure to check the medication guide to ensure that it is safe to let it sit on the counter for 10 or 15 minutes to let it warm up. Setting a timer on a phone, watch, or smart speaker may be helpful to avoid leaving the medication out for too long. If it’s not clear whether or not the medication can be left out to warm up, contact the manufacturer. Their name and phone number or website address should be on the medication box. Always read the instructions for use on the medication and follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

8. Changing the injection site

After a while, patients sometimes have a favorite area on the body in which to inject. It’s important to ask a health care provider about suggested injection sites. Common sites are the thigh or the stomach. In order to avoid pain and to give the body time to heal, the manufacturer may recommend switching the injection site, particularly when injections are more frequent or if there’s an injury to the usual area. If it becomes difficult to change sites as needed, talk to a doctor or nurse to find out if there are any alternate places to inject or to get help with injections. Always read the instructions for use on the medication and follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

9. Keeping track of medications

For some injectable medications, there could be weeks between injections. Even with a weekly dosing schedule, losing track of injection times is a potential concern. For certain medications, timing is especially important, so for this reason, it’s important to stay on top of medication orders and the injection times. There are a variety of ways to keep track: everything from using a planner or a paper calendar to setting an alarm on a cell phone or another device. What’s important is making sure there is consistency and that medication is ordered to allow enough time for shipping before it’s time for the next dose. Always read the instructions for use on the medication and follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. 

10. Sharps disposal

One aspect of self-injecting medication that is new to many patients is in disposing of the needles (often called “sharps”) after injection. Depending on the number of injections needed each week or month, dealing with sharps disposal can be challenging. Communities may offer different ways of dealing with sharps, which range from disposing of sharps at home with the trash in a sharps container to dropping off the sharps at a pharmacy, health center, or police station. Some manufacturers offer a sharps mailback system. Or you could consider using an injection management system like the Smart Sharps Bin to stay on track with your injections and use their mailback program for easy, hassle-free sharps disposal.

Amber Tresca was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 16. After 10 years of active disease, medical therapy failed and she underwent the 2 step j-pouch surgery (removal of the large intestine and creation of an internal pouch from the last part of the small intestine). Amber founded the About IBD blog and podcast and co-founded IBDMoms. She currently works as a speaker, facilitator, and advocate for people with IBD as well as a freelance writer and editor for medical web sites and publications. Amber is not a user of the Smart Sharps Bin injection care management system.

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