Harvard Women's Health Watch

In brief: Insulin by inhaler: new option for diabetes treatment

In brief

Insulin by inhaler: New option for diabetes treatment

For the first time since the introduction of insulin more than 80 years ago, a non-injectable way of taking the hormone will be available. Exubera, a fast-acting inhaled insulin, was approved by the FDA in January 2006 and should be on the market by mid-year. Pfizer, which developed the drug and inhaler with Sanofi-Aventis and Nektar Therapeutics, says that a needle-free option will benefit people with diabetes who need insulin but delay treatment because they fear the injections.

More than five million people in the United States must inject insulin daily. People with type 1 diabetes, a form that usually develops at an early age, stop producing insulin. People with type 2 diabetes, which usually shows up in adulthood and is linked to obesity, continue to make insulin, but the body doesn't respond normally. This "insulin resistance" causes blood sugar to rise. Blood sugars that remain out of control can result in serious complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, vision loss, and nerve damage. Insulin therapy is the only option for people with type 1. Type 2 diabetes can usually be managed through diet, exercise, and oral medications, but some people also need insulin injections.

Exubera doesn't eliminate insulin shots, but it can mean fewer of them. People with type 1 diabetes, for example, use both long-acting and fast-acting insulins to keep blood sugar even throughout the day. At mealtime, Exubera may be a more convenient way of taking fast-acting insulin than an injection. In type 2 diabetes, inhaled insulin can be used alone or with diabetes pills or long-acting insulins.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »