Insulin Allergies

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While it's not common, some people can experience insulin allergies.

In the days of pork and beef derived insulin (prior to the mid 80s), insulin allergy was a relatively common occurrence. However, since the use of recombinant human insulin has become pervasive, the number of people who are allergic to insulin has declined enormously.

Insulin allergy is now rare, but it does occur. Like any other allergic reaction it is triggered by a misguided response from the immune system, seeing a benign element as a foreign invader. People who have insulin allergies may experience redness, hives at the site of injection, a rash that spreads over the whole body, angioedema (swelling of the skin under the surface), hypotension, dyspnea and even anaphylaxis. In anaphylaxis the throat swells so much the airway is compromised and suffocation can ensue.

Since different insulins use different filler materials to stabilize their solutions and contain a slightly different combination of amino acid in their molecular sequence, it is possible that you can be allergic to one type of insulin and not to another. Therefore, often a switch in the type of insulin you are taking is all that is required to avoid any further incidences.

Since allergic reactions can be life-threatening, the first thing to do if you notice a reaction to your insulin, especially if it comes soon after you have injected it, is to call your physician, so your condition can be diagnosed and treated, if necessary, successfully. Your physician may empirically simply switch you to a different brand of insulin if your reaction was not severe.

However, if your condition is more worrisome, affecting your breathing for example, you may be asked to see an allergist. The allergist can do a skin prick test in which a small amount of insulin is introduced under the skin to see if you react. If you do react to particular insulin, other insulins can be tested to see if they share cross-reactivity.

For patients whose allergy to insulin is universal, slow, gradual desensitization is often prescribed. This involves taking minute doses of insulin, often given through an insulin pump, since pumps can be programmed to deliver very small amounts of insulin at one time, often down to fraction of a unit. The dose is increased when the patient is able to tolerate the current volume of insulin without exhibiting symptoms.

Interruption of insulin for an extended period of time can evoke the allergy once again, so it is important that this type of insulin usage continues. Usually an antihistamine and steroids are given to block the response of the immune system until the body begins to accept the insulin. For some people, the allergy to insulin does not respond to desensitization and continued use of steroids and antihistamines given along with the insulin is the only recourse.

Happily this doesn’t happen very often and when it does happen we now have the resources to control it.

48 Responses to Insulin Allergies

  1. Thomas Smith says:

    Hi
    I have found that I am allergic to insulin’s and all my Dr can say is good luck
    Is there any thing that can help as my BG readings no longer register on an my tsetin machine.

    I am taking 2000 mg of Diabex and 60 mlg of Diamicron

    I am looking forward to MannKind who are trying to get an inhalable insulin approved.
    I did have an opportunity to try this here in Australia but no Dr would support me and the opportunity has now gone, so I do not take any notice of the diabetic Dr any more. I am 72 years young and doubt that I will make 73

    • Marianne says:

      Try the Aikins diet. I am allergic to insulin also. Got my numbers down all day and my only problem now is a 50 reading in the AM
      I give a small dose, 4 units, and I am feeling better. I also take natural help for diabetes.but most of all prayer works.

      • Charlotte Sagow says:

        Oh, yes Matianne, you ate absolutely right – prayer gives the utmost help in hopeless situations!
        Charlotte

    • Michelle says:

      Here is the USA, they pulled the inhaled Insulin off of the shelves! It wasn’t “popular”. I am allergic to insulin as well.

  2. Donna schindler says:

    My child is allergic to novolog. It causes his whole body to itch all over with no relief, migraines, and nausea. He does fine on humalog. I think it must be a preservative issue. But I dont know.

    • john zvara says:

      he is probably allergic to the phenol ie creasote in novalog and all insulin you can do provocation nuetralization with dr William J Rea at the environmental health center in dallas. I personally could not tolerate the preserviative which by the way is a cancer causing agent and deadly so the FDA lets the big pharma put a toxic agent in insulin for people who are already immuno compromised.

      • Gail says:

        I am allergic to all insulins and now have to take some prednisone and Benadry; to tolerate any insulin. I saw Dr. Rea but did not get results other than getting a complicated impossible schedule of antigens sent from their clinic continuously to me. I tolerated Lilly pork somewhat but they stopped manufacturing it and I had to go on Apidra- could not tolerate any others. I imported animal insulins but was allergic also to those. Now am completely allergic to Apidra and have recently been forced totake a small amount of prednisone which makes me feel better. I find very little help onthis topic doctors don’t know or want to know about the very few who cannot tolerate insulin in general. Most people and allergists know next to nothing about it and no on knows quite how to help me. I am only alive now because of the prednisone I believe and docs are very opposed to it. It is a very scary life for me and has only gotten worse the longer I;ve been on insulin-over 31 years. Anyone else in the world have this problem or am I literally the only one?

        • SHAhnawaz says:

          dear this same condition is with me, have you got any curb treatment for it if you have so plz inform me..

        • Kim says:

          I gained 35 pounds of fluid in 3 weeks my joints and muscles hurt My whole body swells when I take insulin . I have no clue what to do I can’t find a doctor that wants to think out of the box that can tell me why this is happening. Or how to fix it.

          • Jane Toby says:

            I found that I had a lot of trouble when we had to switch to the new ‘human’ insulin. I could not detect hypos and ended up running my sugars high to avoid them. Was advised pump was the only way to go. I made a deal with the doctor to try old fashioned beef insulin which is still available in Australia on the PBS. As soon as I started on it I could immediately detect hypos again. I have switched to Hypurin Porcine Isophane, but I have had to apply to TGA and get permits and have to pay for it myself. I had to doctor shop to find a doctor who would do the letter for me. I have just done a dafne course too, and would highly recommend it. Pertistence can pay off!

          • Michelle says:

            OMG that’s me too!!!!!! I put on over 20 lbs of water weight! I am type 1 and allergic to both long acting AND short acting!

        • Cindy says:

          I am having the same problem. I react to Humalog, Novalog, Apidra. I just started on Humalin U500 in hopes that the smaller amount needed will work, but it isn’t. I saw my endocrinologist last week and she does not know where to go from here.
          I must say, I am kind of freaking out about this. I have been type 1 for 35 years and had problems with pork insulin also.

        • Marianne says:

          I also allergic to insulin but no help available,. I am eating close to a Aikins diet. gets me thru the day but only problem now is a 50 reading in the AM. I use natural vitamins and I am much better ( I had seizures, confusion and breathing problems.) I
          Thought I was done for

        • ashley says:

          not the only one. I thought I might be. Ive been a type one for almost 20 years, but the allergy didn’t start causing problems until about 8 years ago. None of the Doctors care or want to help. they pretty much tell me to suck it up, but i never feel well. I cannot live with it, and I cannot live without it – guess that is my mantra

        • Mihaela says:

          I am allergic to asll insulin as well.. I have gestational diabeties… had it on first pregnancy when I was very late diagnosed…After I was not diagnosed as diabetic anymore…just hovering over;)… and 4 years later got pregnant again and alergy is still here. Nomater what I try ,the allergy occurs..and I have to inject myself 4 times a day… When I think I will get it someday in later years for good …I am stressing myself out like crazzy coz seams I am condemned to die young

          • Gail Nadler says:

            I posted here before I am Gail and I have type 1 for 34 yrs. I took Lilly pork for 25 yrs but felt ill from insulin. All human insulins and analogs were worse. I take Medrol 3 mgs every 3 days and Benadryl as needed and take Apidra. I think I have mast cell activation syndrome which causes allergic reaction to many meds because the histamine is released in the body unpredictably. I still get hives but feel better from the Medrol. Have swollen lymph glands for over 30 yrs don’t know the connection if any to allergies but know my immune system is out of whack and that is all connected to allergies and possibly mast cell activation anyone else similar? Have horrid reactions to most meds? allergists guess at issue and I feel alone with these reactions. What if I need an antibiotic problem is with most meds and that is very scary. Found a way to live with insulin allergy but suffered all of these years with no one believing atypical symptoms. anyone else have similar issues with insulin and meds in general? Please respond-thanks

  3. Natalie says:

    I understand desensitization, but what about Type 1’s who require insulin to stay alive? Don’t the steroids disable the desensitization process? Fortunately, I’m not allergic to insulin; just curious.

  4. Jan Birch says:

    I find that all insulins cause a burning sensation over my entire body and swelling of my feet and ankles. No redness…….just burning. It can get so bad that I have diffculty walking and sleeping. I believe that it must be something in the preservative as I am sensitive to preservatives. I find that Apidra causes the least pain.

  5. Pingback: Insulin Allergies | Richard's Views of Type 1 Diabetes

  6. VIRGINIA BROWN says:

    Diabetic for 52 years. Had islet cell transplant thus didn’t require insulin for 2 1/2 years as hospital forgot to order beledacept from the US thus I lost the islets.Since being slowly weened off the drugs and back on insulin I have an itchy rash, nausea and feeling dreadful. Dr tried me on all insulin with no response thus he now has me back on Imuran which is not helping at all. Am going mad, can u help????

    • Mel says:

      Virginia, how can I reach you. There is a little boy who is allergic to insulin. He is type 1 and they tried everything. They won’t do the transplant because they said he is 2 years shy of the age limit. They will only do it if they can prove someone with an allergy insulin had it done and it helped. You may be his lifesaver!

      • laurel says:

        I am also allergic to all insulin; however i cannot get a doctor to believe that’s what it is. I was diagnosed in Jan 2015, and started getting sick a few weeks later. First all sinus issues, felt like the flu, then progressed into wheezing, severe body pain, especially in legs, rashes, itching on chin/neck, and injection site, then my throat starting closing up. I was bedridden, felt poisoned, in too much pain to walk or do anything. I have seen 4 allergists, and all other kinds of specialists. Finally found a doctor that listened a little and tried an 8 month steroid therapy to “reset” my immune system, that didn’t work so he said “good luck” and that was it. Now waiting to see if another allergist will try the Xolair shot, which blocks IGE responses, but he doesn’t believe it’s the insulin either so I doubt I will get it. So now it has been two and a half years of misery and I still cannot find any help. I even raised money to go to the Mayo clinic; they did the skin prick test and it was negative, so they said it wasn’t the insulin, when my whole family knows it is. I don’t know what else to do. Does anyone know of a doctor that has actually dealt with this before? any info please

  7. Cobaltdiane says:

    I’m Type 2 for 12 years and 5 years ago had a severe analphylaxic reaction after taking Levimer. While at the hospital, the MD gave me Novolin due to the high BS and I immediately went into shock again. I tried to manage without insulin; but needed to start insulin 4 years ago. I was desensitized to Novolog and started wearing a pump. No allergy issues until the last several months in which I have constant hives . All my doctors say is that don’t think it is the Novolog and another cause that is still yet to be determined. Any thoughts/comments would be appreciated.

    • Danie says:

      My daughter has been diagnosed diabetic for about 4 months and for about a week now she has been waking up with raised rashes on her that itch I really believe it is her insulin but her Dr said it’s unlikely she would all the sudden become allergic but I feel otherwise we haven’t changed anything in her diet, detergent, soap so idk

      • Cindy says:

        Hi Danie: Yes it is from the insulin well actually probably the preservative in the insullin. All insulins contain either m. creasol or protamine as a preservative. I found some insulins I reacted immediately to others it took a buildup of about 2 months. I have gone through them all now. I am now getting i.v. therapy twice a week for dehydration and to keep the keytones down. I will be trying a dog insulin with a diff preservative next week. so prayin that it works

    • Cindy says:

      Hi Cobaltdiane; It probably is the preservatives in the insulin either m.creasol or protamine. They are in all insulins on the market. Some insulins I reacted to right away, some it took a build-up. I have exausted all insulins on the market. I am about to try dog animal insulin which has a diff preservative. A vet is taking it himself. so we think it will be good for human consumption. My endocroniologist is getting the info for me as he knows the vet.

      • Mel says:

        Cindy, any luck. My friends little boy is type 1 and in the same boat. They have tried everything and nothing is working.

  8. Sandy k says:

    I am quite allergic to Humalog and Novolog, itchy rashes, all over body. Dr. Says I should be ok using Apidra, I have been controlling my Diabetes by Lantus, & Symlin to 7.0 A1c. But got the flu all numbers have gone out of whack due to prednisone, & andibiotics. I am coughing up a storm. A person with Asthma to keep things under control. I am allergic to sulfa, Beta Blockers, ace inhibitors and penicillin. Drs are very reluctant about using Apidra I have to give them consent is what they are saying due to too many allegies . PLEASE HELP SOME. SUGGESTIONS

    • Cindy says:

      Hi Sandi K:
      My endocronilogist knows a vet who is taking animal insulin himself. My endo is contacting him to get info so I am going to try it starting next week as it has a different preservative in it. All human insulins have m.creasol or protamine in them. There is another insulin in the united kingdom with a different preservative but they do not sell to the U.S. or Canada. Hope this gives you some hope.

  9. Mandy says:

    I came to Australia a size 6/8. Maintained this weight but over the Christmas period was eating more and possibly gaining weight to a size 10 (as you do). Playing netball and excercising with hardly eating a drop I wasn’t dropping any weight but finding my body was getting stiff and swelling up. At one night of playing netball I broke my hand and it was the following day they my ankles were the size of melons and I was swelling hugely! I am a type 1 diabetic and since I can remember have been following DAFNE rules and using levimere and novo rapid. I have been unable to get my body back to normal and find that on days I don’t eat much and don’t jag I am not as swollen as days where I eat more carbs and jag more. I get so big that I get oedema all over my body. I am 25 years old and although this may not sound life threatening I cannot continue like this. Could this possibly be a reaction to taking my insulin?!

    • Elizabeth says:

      I am a physician. I developed type 1 diabetes at age 27. Started taking Lantis and refular inaulin and developed a full body rash. My interniat tomd me that it was the “preaervatives” and to keep taking the inaulin and it would be lime allergy ahots and my body would be desensitized to it. The rash went away, but my joints became inflammed and I was diagnosed a couple of years later with Rhwumatoid arthrirs. My skin developed dry, itchy ulcers and my legs swelled and I eventually developed an i flmmatory lesion in my airway that required emergency surgery. I have now stopped eating all carbs and only take small dies of novolog through my pump. If I eat carbs amd take more insulin, My aymptoms worsten. I am thinking if switching to different inaulin. This problem is REAL!!! Elizabeth

      • Rachel Edwards Gibbs says:

        Hello. I get hives on my insulin. I have been type 1 since 1990, diagnosed at age 10. Several years ago I started getting itchy welts while taking humolog insulin through my insulin pump. Thinking I was allergic to the tape or tubing of the pump, I switched back to Lantus injections and tried novolog insulin. It ended up being the insulin or the pump. I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I’m curious of the correlation. I take Allegra every day an it helps but not a cure all.

      • Cindy says:

        Hi Elizabeth: Sounds like u as well as I are allergic to the preservatives in the insulins. They are all made with m.creasol or protamine. I have tried all insulins on the market and some I react to immediately, some take a build-up of 2 months. I now get two bags of I.V. fluids twice a week with potassium in them to rehydrate me and it keeps the keytones at bay but my sugars are still high. I am about to try animal insulin as my endocronologist knows a vet who uses dog insulin himself as it has a different preservative. There is one other human insulin made in the united kingdom with a diff preservative but they are not licenced to ship to Canada or the U.S. Hope this helps. Cindy

    • Marianne says:

      Hi
      I also have gained weight and found that insulin puts large amount of weight on you and its almost impossible to loose it. I just found I am allergic to insulin so I am only taking 4 unit in the AM and hope I do not get any more seizures or feeling of being drunk. Its only a few days that I am eating a Aikins type diet and lost 1 whole pound.
      Big Deal . Hope your doing better.

    • Cindy says:

      Hi Mandy: Yes it could be the insulin or the preservative in the insulin. Some of the insulins I tried affected my muscles badly with swelling and weakness in my hand so much so that I couldn’t hold a cup. A specialist couldn’t figure it out but when I changed insulins the problem went away really quick. I have gone through all insulins some cause the above some cause anyphalactic. We think it is the preservative in the insulins. All are made with m.creasol or protamine. I am about to try dog insulin as it has a different preservative. It may cause the same results but I have exausted everything else. I get two bags of i.v. fluids with potassium twice a week for dehydration and that keeps the keytones down but not the sugars. There is only one insulin in the United Kingdom with insulin that has a different preservative but they r not licenced to ship to Canada or the U.S.
      Hope this helps.

  10. Stephanie Meiers says:

    I use an omnipod pump for about 2 years with Apidra insulin. I recently have developed a rash under the pod and at injection site. My insurance company had stopped my apidra and I’m using humalog which I successfully used prior to Apidra. My physician had changed me to Apidra hoping for better control. I have talked to omnipod thinking they may have changed the adhesive but they have not. I’m having a really hard time wearing the pod for the 3 days due to severe itching. The rash does not subside for days. HELP!

    • jeanie gillock says:

      Hi:) Fellow Omnipod user for about 7 years now. Thought it was adhesive also…. in fact I am using Band-Aid brand Tough Pads now underneath pod. I went through A LOT of barrier supplies and have found that this works for the itchy rash that appears when the pod adhesive is stuck to me. I am finding now that I get a rash at the exact site where the canula goes in. It’s just a little dot so I am better than what I was. Still Soooooooo frustrating!!!! I never thought that it could be the novolog insulin that I am using…why would I be allergic all of a sudden!!! Anyway, hope this helps. 🙂 <

    • Rachel Edwards Gibbs says:

      Take Allegra or an allergy med every day. It helped me bc I had the same experience and eventually went back to injection. Then I realized I had developed an allergy to insulin. I have had type 1 since 1990.

  11. Gordon Fick says:

    I have been using Omnipod for almost 4 years, but this summer I had a bad almost burn like reaction with blisters after the Omnipod had failed and put the Humalog between the pod and the skin. Since that time I have had nothing but major problems with the pump causing a skin reaction each time I use it. I have been on three courses of Prednisone and one course of antibiotics and am still having problems. I thought it was the pod, but have been off of it for a month and getting worse on just Humalog injections so just went to Novolog injections. Can’t seem to get rid of the burning itching abdomen rash. Any ideas?

    • Keyla says:

      This is my reaction exactly!I have used the Omnipod for 8 years and just started having these problems this past summer! I use Humalog in my pump. This situation is driving me crazy and I am running out of application sites! PLEASE ADVISE ME!

  12. Danie says:

    My daughter is 5 years old and has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes for about 4 months now but for the last week she has been breaking out with itchy hives all over her body.. they are on her when she wakes up in the morning we give her lantus at night before bed.. in the morning when she wake up in the morning with hives we give her an antihistamine and they go away throughout the day but are back the next morning

  13. nancy says:

    My oldest sister did not use insulin. She takes metformin 1000 gm a day and one diamocran. She keeps eating a lot of sweet. Imagine to keep her sugar above 4.

  14. Ron says:

    I was diagnosed Type 2 after a heart transplant 5 years ago. The doctors put me on Humalog/Novolog and Lantus. The bottoms of my feet began to swell first…the doctors said it was ‘diabetic neuropathy ‘…..
    Over the last 4 years, the swelling has moved up my ankles in to my lower legs, making walking extremely painful and difficult. This was accompanied by extreme itching as well.
    I currently see an endocrinologist, cardiologist, and primary care physician, and NONE of them has linked my condition to an ALLERGIC response to these products. After researching on my own, I decided to stop taking these two medications and see what happened. Within days, my feet have started to improve drastically. I can now walk and the swelling continues to decrease. I have continued to monitor my sugar levels faithfully and they stay pretty steady between 150-250.
    Any suggestions?

    • Karen says:

      See dietdoctor.com and switch to a low carb high fat diet which requires less insulin and has reverse Type 2 diabetes for many people. Good luck.

  15. ARZ says:

    I agree. The insulin seems to be the cause of neuropathy and swelling in heart which is indistinguishable from plaque. Thus I have 5 stents. I am getting worse reactions to various insulins, which includes dizziness, and blacouts, severe hot flashes, (previously blamed on hormones), heart palpitations and now breakouts. We cannot continue treating the symptoms. We need to find and treat the csuse. It’s out there. Bari artic surgery immediately cures diabetes so……, thinking has to change.

  16. TONYA says:

    HAS ANYONE HAD AN ADVERSE REACTION TO EXPIRED INSULIN? I THOUGHT IT WOULD JUST BE INEFFECTIVE…BUT I BEGAN VOMITING, PASSING OUT, HAD VERTIGO/DIZZINESS, RAPID HEARTBEAT AND BREATHING ISSUES. THE EMERGENCY ROOM THOUGHT I WAS DRUNK SO THEY RAN AN ETHANOL TEST WHICH OF COURSE CAME BACK NEGATIVE. THEY SAID THEY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME, THAT IT PROBABLY WASN’T THE EXPIRED INSULIN BUT THAT WAS THE ONLY THING DIFFERENT THAT DAY AND IN FACT THAT WEEK…MAYBE GETTING THIS INFO OUT WILL SAVE SOMEONES’ LIFE

    • Rin says:

      It could be one of the cause factor..or else not properly refrigerate that might change its contents…but if ur case is like my father collpase as soon as the insulin injected not even a min he fell with cold n clammy skin.. Sweat+++ weak. Blood pressure drop like having anaphalctic shock..sugar at that time is 8mmol…it happen 5times already but dr deny the cause is allergic reaction.. But i do sfill belief its allerguc cause to insulin..

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