It’s been 6 years of self-injections, and yet, when my med alarm goes off on my phone, I still try to avoid piercing my skin with the needle. But, I’ve also had some of my healthiest years while managing Crohn’s with “biologics” (a class of medications which most-often requires injections or infusions), so it’s been more than worth it for me! For those who have never had the pleasure, it’s an experience that is unique to each person, so just assume that you won’t totally know how it feels until you try. It’s not like a shot in the doctor’s office, and it’s also not the same as having your blood drawn. If you’re feeling nervous, A: have an honest conversation with your doctor about how you're feeling, B: do your research on the benefits and risks of the medications that are being considered for you, and C: know that if it hurts, there are lots of things to try to make it better. This is what i'm hoping to help with today.
If you haven’t decided yet, but you’re thinking about possibly starting a medication that requires injections, reading through these tips may help you understand the type of at-home routine that will be required.
10 Steps for an Easier Medication Injection:
1. Pick the Easiest Day and Time for You.
The time of day and day of the week might matter to you. If you’re always going out on Fridays, or always working on Tuesdays, you’ll want to avoid those busier days. You’ll be committing to this day for the foreseeable future, so if you have any control over your injection day, go ahead and pick one that might be the most commonly available to you. Also, especially for your first at-home injections, select a time of day that gives you some quiet time. I like to give injections at night, as I can sit and read a book for a few minutes after it’s done.
2. Set an Alarm.
Injections are important to take on time, so setting an alarm on my phone has been very helpful. I have three alarms set. The first reminds me to ORDER my meds on time (can’t take them if they haven’t been shipped to you). The second reminds me to give my injection on the left side of my body. And the third alarm reminds me to give an injection on the right side of my body. This ensures that I am moving the injection around, something that is helpful to avoid scar tissue build-up.
3. Let Your Meds Come to Room Temperature.
Once your alarm goes off, you should take your meds out of the fridge. If allowed by the manufacturer, the meds should spend some time coming to room temperature. This will help with the sting that everyone talks about. Before starting a new medication, I check with my drug manufacturer to be sure that it’s ok to let it warm up on the counter. (When I called Humira, I was surprised that the drug could even be out of the fridge for two weeks!) I find 20 minutes to be plenty of time. Because I get distracted easily, I also set a 20-minute timer, so that I don’t caught up in something else and completely forget. (yep, I’ve totally done that)
4. Wash Your Hands and Gather Your Supplies.
While my meds come to room temperature, I always gather my band-aid, alcohol wipe, and whatever entertainment I need for after the injection. I make sure to put everything I need right next to my seat, and then I wash my hands.
5. Ice the Injection Site.
Icing the injection site was very helpful for taking some of the sting out of the injection. Once it’s good and numb, you can use the alcohol wipe to get your skin clean.
6. Let the Alcohol Dry on Your Skin.
Now, you’re ready for your injection. Wipe the intended spot of your skin with the alcohol wipe and then fan it with your hand to allow the skin to completely dry before your injection. This will really help eliminate some of the burning.
7. Find Your Fat.
If one of the approved injection spots on your body has more fat than another, it’s best to choose that spot. Fat hurts a lot less. Every body is different – I’ve found that my thighs are far more painful than my stomach. If you need to, try different spots to see which may sting less. If your “loading dose” (a higher dose of medication that is given only as you first begin taking the drug) includes more than one injection, and you are receiving those injections at your doctor’s office, you can ask the nurse to inject more than one area of your body, to give yourself options. In my experience, the nurses always go for the thigh, unless I ask otherwise.
8. Give the Skin a Good Pinch.
Pinching a good section of fat, and holding that section throughout the duration of your injection is key for minimizing pain AND ensuring that all the medication goes into your skin.
9. Take a Deep Breath and Inject.
I’ve tried both pens and needles, and I find that a little psyching up is required at times. It’s amazing what a deep breath can do. Breathe, inject, slowly blow out the air while you inject and/or count. (using the Humira injection pen, I count to 10 after the needles pierces the skin. Using a needle, I just breathe out as I slowly push the syringe.) If a deep breath isn't enough - which sometimes it isn't - remind yourself what this medication does for you. I'll tell myself something along the lines of "with the help of these meds, i'll stay well enough to go out with friends on Friday and run on Saturday." Remind yourself of why you do this.
10. Treat Yourself.
Give yourself something in return for the injection. At first, my husband and I would call injection night “cupcake” night because I always picked out a cupcake from my favorite bakery to celebrate another successful injection. Now, I have a monthly subscription to my favorite magazine, and for each injection, I read a few articles from the magazine.
Bonus tip: Use your resources. The manufacturer of your drug usually has nurses on-call to help talk you through any concerns. They can help ease your mind if you feel nervous, and can help trouble-shoot any issues that you may have. They're also a great resource if you're worried about the costs of your medication.
IMPORTANT: Know when you shouldn’t be giving yourself an injection. You and your doctor should talk about a plan for when NOT to give yourself an injection. This may include when you feel flu-like symptoms or have a fever. This is a plan between you and your doctor, and you should always be in contact with your doctor’s office if you have any questions or concerns about your individual plan. Always speak openly and honestly with your doctor about your medications.
I was nervous at first, but now I find at-home injection to be very conducive to my lifestyle. I can take them when it is convenient for me, in the comfort of my own home. I was amazed at how quickly I felt skilled at giving them to myself, and still follow these steps every time that I give an injection – they’re posted right on the side of my fridge to remind me.
If you’re still feeling nervous about the thought of giving yourself an injection, there may be some at-home service options available. The manufacturer of the medication may be willing to talk directly with your insurance company or specialty service pharmacy to help you set this up.