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Inhaled Insulin will be


In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first inhaled insulin. It will be sold under the name Exubera, and it’s likely to become available sometime this summer. It’s produced by Pfizer, Inc.

People who have type 1 diabetes may be able to use inhaled insulin in place of rapid-acting injections, but they’ll still need to take their injections of longer-acting insulin. People with type 2 may be able to use Exubera as an alternative to their diabetes pills, or they may use it in combination with pills and the longer-acting insulin. One thing remains the same—whether you have type 1 or type 2, you’ll still need to test your blood sugar regularly,

The inhaled insulin will not eliminate the need for insulin injections. Exubera is a short-acting, mealtime insulin, in powdered form. You’ll need to take it no more than 10 minutes before meals. To take Exubera, you insert a capsule of it into an inhaler, then pump the handle and press a button. A cloud of insulin forms in the inhaler, and you draw that cloud in by taking a regular breath through your mouth. The inhaler weighs about 4 ounces, and when it’s closed, it’s about the size of an eyeglass case.

What are the possible side effects of inhaled insulin?

Potential side effects of Exubera include

  • Low blood sugar
  • Dry mouth
  • Discomfort in the chest
  • Dry cough (this tends to get better over time) 

Who should NOT use inhaled insulin?

As with any new drug, the long-term health effects of inhaled insulin aren’t yet known. Participants in clinical trials of Exubera showed a small decline in the amount of air their lungs could hold. The FDA states that Exubera is not for

  • People who smoke, or who quite smoking less than 6 months ago
  • People who have lung disease, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

If you’ve been avoiding insulin injections at mealtimes, this new inhaled insulin could be a good way for you to get back into a good routine. Pfizer has been creating healthcare provider training programs and guidelines in the use of Exubera. When it becomes available, your doctor will be able to discuss with you how to use it, whether it’s right for you and what side effects to be aware if you do decide to use it.

Diabetes Forecast, April 2006; Food and Drug Administration; The Washington Post, 28 January 2006
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