How To Give Yourself A Shot: Subcutaneous Injection
"I don't like shots." You may have felt that way as a child and still do. But you could be missing out on new medications and preventative treatments. The most common is subcutaneous injection, often used for hormone replacement therapy, peptides, insulin, vitamins and some vaccines. With guidance, you can give yourself a shot.
What Are The Different Types Of Injections?
There are four types of injections. They each deliver medication in varying speeds and are indicated based on the type and purpose of the medication.
- Intramuscular (IM) - Used for COVID-19 vaccines, some other vaccines, emergency epinephrine injected into the thigh muscle to treat anaphylaxis (a severe allergic response). Epinephrine may also be administered through the heart (a muscle) during cardiac arrest. Botox is given IM.
- Intravenous (IV) - Typically for antibiotics and medications often given in a hospital setting like chemotherapy, pain killers and sedatives. Medications administered in emergency situations like cardiac arrest or narcotic overdose.
- Intradermal (ID) - Often used for allergy testing and cosmetic facial fillers.
- Subcutaneous (Subq) - Common for insulin, hormones like testosterone, fertility medications like Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), vitamins peptides, some vaccines and flu shots.
Therapeutic drugs like peptides are often injected. You can handle these subq injections on your own at home. Examples include thymosin alpha 1, for immune system regulation; PT-141, a libido booster for men and women; and sermorelin, a growth hormone secretagogue that stimulates the release of natural growth hormone. Studies show increased growth hormone may enhance and preserve cognitive function, build lean muscle and strengthen bones—benefits with extra importance for active aging.
How Do Subcutaneous Injections Work?
A subq injection uses a short needle to inject a substance into the tissue layer between the skin and the muscle. The area is less dense with veins so the medication is absorbed more slowly than IV. A subq shot may be absorbed over a 24 hour period. Shots are given when other methods of administration might be less effective. For example, some medications cannot be given by mouth because acid and enzymes in the stomach will destroy them or faster delivery is necessary.
1. Gather your supplies
- Syringe with medication or auto-injector pen
- Alcohol pads
- Puncture-resistant container to discard used syringe
2. Choose the injection site
When administering a subcutaneous injection, the location of injection is important. The medication needs to be injected into the fatty tissue just below the skin. There are some areas on the body where the layer of fatty tissue is more easily accessible, where a needle injected under the skin will not hit blood vessels, bone, or muscle tissue. The most common injection sites are:
- Back or side of upper arm
- Abdomen area under the belly button
- Front of the thigh
3. Sterilize and take precautions
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water to prevent the spread of potential infection.
- Before injecting the medication, inspect your skin to make sure that there is no irritation around the injection area. After a thorough examination, clean the injection site with an alcohol swab. Let the alcohol dry thoroughly before performing the injection.
- Double-check that you are using the correct medication for the injection. Always be sure to use a new needle and syringe with every injection.
4. Fill the syringe
- Remove the cap from the vial and clean the rubber stopper with an alcohol swab. If the vial contains multiple doses, make a note of the date that the vial was first opened.
- Draw back the plunger, filling the syringe with air equal to the amount of medication to be administered. Next, with the vile in an upright position, remove the cap from the needle and push the needle through the rubber stopper at the top of the vial. Inject all of the air into the vial.
- Then, turn the vile and syringe upside down, with the needle remaining in the vile, and pull back on the plunger to fill the syringe up to your dosage point.
- Once the syringe is filled, remove it from the vile. Point the syringe upward and tap the syringe to move any air bubbles up to the top. Once the bubbles are at the top, gently push on the plunger to remove the air from inside of the syringe.
- Make sure to double-check you still have the proper dosage left inside of the syringe.
5. Inject the medication
- Pinch your skin. Use your thumb and index finger to pinch a large amount of skin and fat and hold it, as shown below. This pulls the fatty tissue away from the muscle and will make the injection easier.
- Inject the needle. Inject the needle into your pinched skin at a 90-degree angle. If you have little fat on your body, you may need to inject the needle at a 45-degree angle to the skin instead.
- Insert the medication. Slowly push the plunger to inject the medication. Make sure to inject the entire amount of medication in the syringe.
- Withdraw the needle. Let go of the pinched skin and withdraw the needle from the skin. Use gauze to apply light pressure to the injection site. You may notice a little bruising later. This is common and is nothing to be concerned about.
6. Discard the syringe
To prevent the spread of diseases, it is very important to not reuse needles and syringes. Make sure to discard your used needle in a puncture-resistant sharps container like the one shown below.
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