Your Insulin Needs a Little TLC
For those living with type 1 diabetes and for many with type 2, taking insulin is a part of daily life. That’s because people with diabetes either do not produce insulin on their own or their bodies cannot use it effectively. For more on the role insulin plays in the body and essential facts about how it’s used as medication, we recommend reading, “Understanding Insulin: The Basics.” In this article, we’re going to focus on the where, why, and how of storing your insulin medication safely.
Insulin is one medication you can’t just toss into your medicine cabinet. That’s because insulin is a protein dissolved in water. Like any protein, your insulin can spoil if it isn’t kept cool. However, unlike the mystery food container at the back of your fridge, spoiled insulin won’t make you sick. The danger is that your medication may be rendered ineffective, causing your blood glucose levels to climb higher than you expect.
For that reason, most of the storage guidelines detailed below revolve around temperature and expiration date. The bottom line: treat your insulin more like a perishable food item than your run-of-the-mill medicine stash.
When You Receive Your Insulin
You should always store new or unopened insulin in the refrigerator (at a temperature between 36°F and 46°F). Take a peek at the expiration date listed on your medication and place it in your refrigerator as soon as you can. It’s important to discard your insulin once it reaches its expiration date, even if it is unopened.
To ensure your insulin is not subject to temperature fluctuations in the refrigerator, getting a temperature sensor may be a good idea. Also, try to store your insulin on the center shelf—the area most consistent with the thermostat setting—rather than on the top shelf or door compartments.
Whenever you receive a new type of insulin, review the instructions for your specific prescription with your pharmacist. If you fill your prescription with Alto, you can check your medication’s details and instructions at any time in the Alto app or your online account. Plus, our care team is always an in-app chat or call away.
When You Open Your Insulin
Since injecting cold insulin can be uncomfortable, it’s okay to keep the open vial, cartridge, or pen you are currently using at room temperature (between 56°F and 80°F) for about a month.
In general, you will need to discard your insulin 28 days after opening it, but be sure to check the information provided with your specific medication or reach out to your pharmacist to confirm. Label your vial, cartridge, or pen with the date you first open it so you’ll have no problem remembering when it’s time to throw it away.
Always check both the original expiration date listed on your medication and the date of opening before every use. Do not use expired insulin. You should also inspect your insulin before every use, looking for any changes in color or clarity as well as any crystals or clumps. If you notice changes or have any doubts, use a new vial, cartridge, or pen.
When You’re Traveling or On the Go
While you’re on the move, it’s still essential to keep your insulin from getting too hot or too cold. You want your insulin to remain between 36°F and 80°F. Keep in mind, even if the temperature outside isn’t extreme, your insulin can quickly heat up if left in a parked car or intense sun.
If your insulin has been frozen or exposed to extreme heat, you should not use it—even if it has cooled back down or thawed. There’s a high probability that your insulin will be ineffective, and a blood sugar spike could catch you off guard.
Carry your insulin with you in an insulated bag (remember—treat it like perishable food) and keep all your medication supplies in your carry-on if you’re traveling by plane, train, or bus. It’s always a good idea to make sure your prescription label is visible, especially if you’ll be going through airport security.
When Your Insulin is Delivered
No one wants to stand in line at the pharmacy month after month. But insulin’s temperature sensitivity doesn’t lend itself well to being shipped through the mail—you don’t want it spending hours sitting on your doorstep or the back of a mail truck.
When you choose Alto for your prescriptions, we’ll deliver your insulin by hand using temperature-controlled packaging. You can choose a delivery window when you know you’ll be available to receive your package and place it in the refrigerator right away. We’ll monitor your medication’s temperature as it makes its way to you, and you can track our progress the whole way. Best of all, our delivery service is completely free.
We’re here to make managing your insulin prescription easy. Our team is available to answer your questions from 9 am – 12 midnight ET Monday – Friday, and 10 am – 9 pm ET on weekends; reach out by in-app secure messaging or phone.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.