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Diabetes Health Center

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Inhaled Insulin

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Researchers, doctors, and people with diabetes agree that injected insulin works well to manage the disease. They'll probably also say that getting insulin into your body through something other than a needle would be even better.

You can't get insulin in a pill, but how about breathing it in?

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If you're one of the nearly 24 million Americans living with type 2 diabetes, you know your body has difficulty using or producing insulin. What can you do to manage the disease? We asked Jill Crandall, MD, professor of clinical medicine and director of the diabetesclinical trials unit at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, to debunk some myths and help you learn to live well.

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How Inhaled Insulin Works

The idea of inhaling insulin has been around for decades. It wasn't until the 1990s that researchers made it possible.

With an inhaler much like the ones people with asthma use, you breathe a fine insulin powder into your lungs. There, it enters your blood through tiny blood vessels.

Inhaled Insulin Today

In June 2014, the FDA approved Afrezza. It's an inhaler with pre-measured, rapid-acting insulin you use before meals.

It's not for diabetes emergencies such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Common side effects of inhaled insulin are low blood sugar, a cough, and a scratchy or sore throat.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you'll still need to take long-acting insulin, too, to help control your blood sugar.

If you smoke or you have a lung disease, such as asthma or COPD, you shouldn't use inhaled insulin.

Early Inhaled Insulin

The FDA approved the first inhaled insulin, Exubera, in September 2006. People who had type 1 or type 2 diabetes could use it.

But the drug's maker took it off the market in October 2007, because it didn't seem to catch on with patients. People thought the inhaler was too big and clunky. (The Afrezza inhaler is much smaller.) Later, the FDA was concerned that Exubera might cause lung problems including cancer.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 30, 2014
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