What is Inhaled Insulin?

Britt Archer

People who suffer from diabetes have several problems to deal with on a daily basis, the most important of which is maintaining a healthy level of blood sugar in their bodies. A related problem is the discomfort of daily sticks or needles, which are used to draw a small blood sample to check the level of blood sugar. While not life-threatening, the repeated discomfort of the needles, and sometimes even a deep-seated fear of the sharp sticks, can turn into a serious stumbling block to self-care and self-testing for some people. Alternative methods of insulin delivery, including administering the drug through the nose as inhaled insulin, or swallowing it in the form of a pill, are all being studied.

Insulin may be distributed in powder form via an inhaler.
Insulin may be distributed in powder form via an inhaler.

Although inhaled insulin has been the topic of discussion and speculation for many years, it has not become a viable alternative yet. Drug companies are continuing their research and still hope to be able to bring it to market. One drug company did bring inhaled insulin to market in 2006, but soon after voluntarily removed it from drugstore shelves for several reasons.

Injecting insulin is the most popular way to treat diabetes available today.
Injecting insulin is the most popular way to treat diabetes available today.

Inhaled insulin begins as a powder formulation. The powder is distributed via an inhaler, which sends it to the lungs. Similar in form and function to an asthmatic’s inhaler, an insulin inhaler would be held to the open mouth and sprayed while the patient inhales the drug into the lungs. From there the insulin would travel to the body’s bloodstream. It is considered a fast-acting drug, typically going to work within minutes of use.

Insulin delivered via inhaler did not end up being popular among diabetics, the product's target consumers.
Insulin delivered via inhaler did not end up being popular among diabetics, the product's target consumers.

The inhaled insulin on the market did not fare well as a diabetes treatment. The cost was high, and also diabetics did not turn to it as enthusiastically as drug makers had hoped. Also, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States raised the possibility the drug could be related somehow to lung cancer and other problems.

Researchers continue to study inhaled insulin as a way to deliver diabetic treatment to patients with Type 1 diabetes.
Researchers continue to study inhaled insulin as a way to deliver diabetic treatment to patients with Type 1 diabetes.

One of the problems with this type of drug concerned the type of patient who would be able to use it as a diabetes treatment. Smokers were ruled out because researchers found that too much of the drug traveled to the bloodstream. Also ruled out were patients with asthma and other lung disorders, such as emphysema. While problems with this type of insulin delivery system remain, researchers continue to study inhaled insulin as a way to deliver diabetic treatment to patients with both types of the disease, Type 1 and Type 2.

Prolonged high blood sugar may cause kidney and vision problems in diabetics.
Prolonged high blood sugar may cause kidney and vision problems in diabetics.

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Discussion Comments

bear78

Of course, it's a completely separate matter whether inhaled insulin causes cancer or not. If shown to be true, there is not much to say on it.

Aside from this though, people did not want to use inhaled insulin when it came out for other reasons. My grandmother tried using it then and was immediately disappointed with the high price.

Apparently, it was not as convenient and efficient as it is described to be either.

The dose was in a different measurement than what everyone was used to and they had to keep converting it to get it right. The inhaler had to be cleaned and changed regularly. It was also much larger in size than it should have been.

These reasons were enough for consumers to reject this product. It might work just as well as normal insulin, but it's not enough. If pharmaceuticals plan on bringing it back, they have to find a way to make it easier to use and cheaper.

ysmina

I believe inhaled insulin is being used in some countries like the United Kingdom now. I think that it has been most successful with kids because kids have been having the hardest time using insulin injections.

People in the UK have the same concerns about how inhaled insulin will affect the lungs over a long period of time. But the companies that are producing it believe that diabetes patients, especially kids, use insulin earlier and more properly this way. So they believe that it is having a good affect so far on health and quality of life.

I think I agree. What do you think?

candyquilt

I hope that inhaled insulin will become a safe and cheap option for diabetes patients soon.

I have also heard about similar studies for checking blood sugar by using a breath test. The research on this is still not completed.

But if both of these can be offered to the public, I think the lives of diabetics will become so much easier.

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