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.

11 Responses to Insulin Allergies

  1. Thomas Smith says:

    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

  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?

  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


    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????

  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.

  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

  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?!

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