Inhaled Insulin: Everything you need to know

Afrezza is providing some diabetics with an alternative to injections. The fast acting insulin is inhaled and absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream by cells in the lungs. From the time of inhalation insulin levels in the bloodstream peak in 15-20 minutes. Injected insulin can take up to an hour for peak levels to be reached.

Alfrezza is inhaled through a small inhaler about the size of your extended thumb. It can be used to control blood sugar in those with multiple types of diabetes. Researchers say the drug is most effective at meal time. The FDA approved Alfrezza yesterday after a study involving 3,000 people, 1,000 of which suffered from type 1 diabetes.

The product does not come without warnings. There’s a Boxed Warning on Alfrezza advising that acute bronchospasms have been observed in test subjects. Patients with lung diseases such as asthma are advised against trying Alfrezza. The FDA’s Boxed Warning is the sternest warning issued by the government on pharmaceutical products.

Some users in an experiment listed coughing as a negative side-effect. The FDA is continuing studies about potential long-term risk of lung cancer. More complex types of diabetes may require different treatment. As always, consult your health care professional about your concerns.

No doubt an inhalable form of insulin is more convenient than injections. The Alfrezza inhaler is easy to use and takes less than a minute of instruction to learn. Alfrezza exits the body faster than injectable insulin thus patients report less weight gain.

Dr. Jean-Marc Guettier of the FDA said Alfrezza “broadens the options available for delivering mealtime insulin in the overall management of patients with diabetes who require it to control blood sugar levels.”

There are 26 million Americans live with diabetes. The market is obviously there for sufferers who are at increased risk for heart disease, blindness and nerve damage. Diabetes is no picnic, so anything that might ease treatment is welcomed by patients.

The product is not yet available for consumer use as a developer is seeking a pharmaceutical company to partner with. Alfrezza is not the first inhalable insulin to test the market. In 2006 and 2007 Pfizer Inc. offered Exubera but pulled it after poor sales.