Islets of Hope  care tips for persons with diabetes

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Article disclaimer

Compiled by Lahle Wolfe, who is not a medical doctor but has diabetes, and is a parent of a young child with diabetes who uses an insulin pump.

MSN Health
Yahoo Health
American Diabetes Assn.


Tips are sent to us and compiled into our "Diabetes Care Tips" section for general information only. Tips are based on the experiences and opinions of those who submit tips to IOH and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and position of IOH.

Advice found in any part of our "Diabetes Care Tips" section is not intended, nor should be as a substitute for the care and advice of a licensed medical health professional.

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Insulin Safety Tips: When to discard insulin

When in doubt, throw it out!  Discard insulin that has been:

  • Violently shaken or dropped
  • Has a change in appearance (Regular, Lispro, and Glargine should always be clear but NPH, Lente, UltraLente and 70/30 should always be cloudy)
  • Is stringy or has clumps
  • Has any solid particles floating in it or stuck to the bottom
  • That has been frozen
  • That was exposed to temperature extremes like being left in a car or in the sunlight
  • If the latex seal is damaged
  • If you accidentally inject one type of insulin into another (vial) of insulin
  • Discard the remaining 10% of insulin (only use about 90% from the bottle/vial).

type 2 diabetic woman  M. Sarah Rosenthal
The Type 2 Diabetic Woman:  The Type 2 Diabetic Woman is designed to address the unique physical and emotional aspects of this disease for women. Stressing the importance of good self-management, best-selling health writer M. Sara Rosenthal presents information on nutrition, exercise, self-testing, medications, sex, and pregnancy in a warm, supportive manner. The book focuses on how to work with your health-care team, how to make the right lifestyle changes, and how to prevent long-term complications.

Links to information about insulin

About Kids Health Canada

BD Diabetes

Humalog and Heat (users report hyperglycemia on Humalog that stops when a new vial of insulin is used)


(1) BD Diabetes

(2) Diabetes Mall: Humalog and Heat and User Reports

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Tips for Insulin

Tips for Mixing, Preparing & Storing Insulin
Chart version: Insulin storage & expiration

diabetes forecast magazine
Diabetes Forecast:  Helps people with diabetes and their families lead normal, healthy lives by providing information and support on all aspects of diabetes treatment, management and self care. Contains profiles of people with diabetes, recipes, diet and exercise articles.     IOH Rating 5/5 

Mini Site Index
What should insulin look like?
How long does insulin (bottled in vials) last? (What is the "shelf-life" of insulin?)
How long does insulin stay "good" in an insulin pump cartridge?
How long does insulin stay "good" in insulin pen cartridges and prefilled pens?
How can I travel safely with insulin? (also, see "Travel Tips")

What should insulin look like?

According to BD Diabetes:  There are two ways to tell when insulin is no longer good: poor performance and unusual appearance.   Visual inspection of your insulin is important -- each time you use insulin be sure to check its appearance.  If you begin to have episodes of hyperglycemia, your insulin may be bad.  For other causes and troubleshooting of hyperglycemia see our section on "Hyperglycemia."

  • Regular, Lispro, and Glargine should always be clear.
  • NPH, Lente, UltraLente and 70/30 should always be cloudy.  

Insulin should never be thick, clumpy, stringy, discolored, or have solid floating particles, or solid residue at the bottom of the bottle (vial).

How long does insulin (bottled) last? (What is the "shelf-life" of insulin?)

  • Unopened insulin, that has been refrigerator is good until the package expiration date.  Once insulin has been opened, even when it is refrigerated, you need to use it or discard it within 28 days after puncturing the seal with a syringe.
  • Unrefrigerated insulin (stored at room temperature) is good for one month.
  • Never freeze insulin or expose it to heat (like leaving it in a car, bathroom, or sunlight).  Once exposed, assume the insulin has been damaged and discard it.
  • Insulin that has been dropped or shaken can also be damaged.:  discard damaged insulin.

How long does insulin stay "good" in an insulin pump cartridge?

Under normal conditions, insulin in pump cartridges may last 3 to 5 days.  However, some Humalog users report (Diabetes Mall)(2) that it should be changed at least every 72 hours to avoid unexplained hypergycemia (high blood glucose). It is safer to simply change your cartridge when you change out your site.

 If you go swimming or to the beach, or unhook yourself from your pump for activities, make sure the pump is stored in a cool, dry place (like under a beach towel in the shade).  Exposure to sunlight and heat will damage the insulin in the cartridge and you will need to replace it.

How long does insulin stay "good" in insulin pen cartridges and prefilled pens?(1)

The shelf-life and viability of insulin in OPENED cartridges for insulin pens and prefilled insulin pens ranges from 7 to 30 days.  Be sure to read your prescription instructions and labeling information.

  • 1.5 mL Insulin Cartridges
    • Humalog - 28 days
    • Novolin R - 30 days
    • Novolin N - 7 days
    • Novolin 70/30 mix - 7 days
  • 3 mL Insulin Cartridges
    • Novolin R - 28 days
    • Novolin N - 14 days
    • Novolin 70/30 mix - 10 days
    • NovoLog - 28 days
  • Prefilled Insulin Pens
    • Humalog - 28 days
    • Novolin R - 28 days
    • Novolin N - 14 days
    • Novolin 70/30 mix - 10 days
    • Novolog - 14 days

How can I travel safely with insulin?
(also, see Traveling with Diabetes: Laws and Policies, Tips on Traveling Anywhere with Diabetes, and Traveling to Another Country )

  • Always carry your insulin on the plane with you and if possible, do not store it in the overhead compartment.
  • Tell a flight attendant that you have diabetes and what seat you are sitting in (if you are traveling alone).
  • Transport insulin in an insulated sports "cool" pack, lunch box, or purchase an insulin-carrying device.  
  • Be aware the airplanes have pressurized cabins.  You do NOT need to inject air into your insulin vial to draw insulin once the cabin has been pressured.  Also, you may require more or less insulin than you normally do when traveling. Check with your doctor before leaving to see what his/her recommended adjustments are.
  • Always carry MORE insulin than you will need (taking double the amount of insulin you normally need is a good rule-of-thumb when traveling).  Also, be sure to carry a copy of your prescription for all your diabetes care supplies in case you need to get more.
  • Do not store insulin in hot, cold, or areas of high humidity and avoid shaking or dropping insulin.
  • Call ahead and ask if your hotel has a room with a refrigerator.
  • Some theme parks have facilities for storing insulin.  Call ahead and ask if the park has a health station with a refrigerator if you are not planning on carrying your insulin with you all day.
  • Insulin is not usually damaged when passing through X-ray machines at airports.  However, repeated exposure to X-rays can affect its stability.  
  • When traveling, it is especially important that you always inspect your insulin every single time before using it.  While vacationing may be relaxing for you it can be stressful for your insulin!
  • Wrap bottles individually to prevent breaking and excessive trauma and keep insulin in an insulated container to protect insulin from temperature extremes.
  • During activities that involve a lot of movement (i.e. mountain biking, horseback riding, etc.) be aware that jarring and shaking insulin can cause it to go bad -- and if you ever drop insulin, it is safer to assume it has been damaged and toss it out.

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Page Updated 04/27/2006