One of the most challenging aspects of a diabetes diagnosis is the ongoing blood sugar management. Whether you use insulin injections, an insulin pump, or medication, you need to stay on top of your glucose levels and maintain a consistent stream of insulin.
If you've been managing diabetes for a while, you've likely grown weary of the constant monitoring and injections, which is why researchers developed insulin patch technology to make diabetes management easier.
In this article, we'll discuss what an insulin patch is, the different types, how to use them, and the emerging research around this technology.
What is an Insulin Patch?
A handful of devices have been developed to assist people with diabetes in their blood sugar management.
The first patch invention was the insulin patch pump. This patch is worn directly on your skin and contains a reservoir and pumping mechanism to deliver insulin. The patch pump is controlled wirelessly by a separate device that allows the programming of insulin delivery for meals.
Some of these pumps connect to a glucose meter, allowing you to measure your glucose wirelessly using a drop of blood from your finger. Other pump patches may connect wirelessly with a continuous glucose monitor that's inserted under your skin.
The second type of patch is an insulin patch that measures blood glucose while also providing a complementary dose of insulin. This patch can be placed directly on the skin, where it has pre-loaded doses of insulin in tiny microneedles (less than a millimeter in length) that deliver insulin directly into the blood.
The microneedles attached to the patch are able to directly sense glucose in the blood and titrate insulin release accordingly.
What Type of Insulin Patch Is Best For You?
There are two primary types of insulin patches available: a bolus patch and a basal patch.
The bolus patch is a single, large dose of insulin you can take when blood glucose rises significantly (like when you're eating a meal). This is a rapid-acting insulin delivery method that's typically used for people with type 1 diabetes but may be helpful for those with type 2 diabetes as well.
The basal patch is a long-acting insulin delivery method that can be prescribed for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This system allows for continual insulin delivery throughout the day, exactly when you need it.
Just a word of caution, there are some companies that sell "blood sugar patches" that contain herbs meant to be absorbed into your skin. While they claim to help balance blood sugar, they’re typically available over the counter with no prescription and aren’t meant for people with a diabetes diagnosis.
If you don’t have diabetes and are interested in trying an herbal patch to “balance blood sugar,” you can give these a try. But they’re not the same as insulin patches and may be contraindicated with your condition.
How Long Should You Use One Insulin Patch?
The longevity of your insulin patch will depend on the make and manufacturer. While some patches are meant for one single 24-hour period, others may last for several days. Be sure to read the instruction manual for your specific patch closely.
How Should You Dispose of Your Insulin Patch?
Just like your other diabetic supplies, insulin patches should be disposed of safely. For most patches, you'll want to mark it as hazardous material due to the attached needles.
Insulin Patches That Are Currently Being Studied
Regardless of the type of patch, what makes these devices tricky is the delivery system. Due to the large molecular size of the molecule, insulin is not easily absorbed into the skin.
So, insulin patches often require specific biological agents that allow the insulin to pass through the dermal layer while also not allowing too much insulin in at once. Some insulin patches that are currently being studied include:
TruePatch is a basal insulin patch under development by the U.S. company Prometheon. To assist in the delivery of insulin, TruePatch includes a dermoadhesive gel that delivers insulin slowly into the skin over time.
Smart Insulin Patch
Researchers out of UCLA are in the process of developing and testing a "smart patch" that's about the size of a quarter. This patch not only monitors blood glucose in real-time but also contains insulin doses that can be injected via small microneedles, bypassing the dermal layer altogether.
Although these devices are not yet available for public use, keep an eye on the emerging research as human trials are likely to begin in the near future. Stay tuned with us here at BioCoach for updates.
Precautions Around Insulin Patches
Before beginning any new treatment method for diabetes you must consult with your primary care doctor to make sure it's the right treatment for you. Just like any other type of diabetes medication, insulin patches run the risk of putting you into a state of hypoglycemia.
Therefore, when beginning with your patch, make sure you stay aware of your blood glucose levels and be sure that the patch dosing is right for you. In some cases, this may take a bit of trial and error.
The advent of insulin patches comes with a sigh of relief for many people that have been managing their blood sugar for years with insulin injections and pumps.
However, while insulin patches are the next big thing in diabetes technology, they don't come without their potential risks. As always, be sure to speak with your health care practitioner before beginning any new medications for your condition.
Also, keep in mind that as a new technology, there may be bugs to work out before insulin patches can be considered safe and reliable.
If you're looking for a way to manage diabetes while staying on top of the latest research and trends, check out BioCoach. At Biocoach, we'll keep you up to date and on track with all things diabetes while providing community and one on one support for your journey.