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Insulin inhaler provides alternative to traditional injection therapy

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Over 30 million Americans have diabetes. Some manage the chronic disease with insulin. The FDA recently approved an alternative therapy to traditional insulin injection. And while it may not be the answer for all diabetics, some have discovered that inhaled insulin is a better fit for them.

Afrezza, the only insulin inhaler currently on the market, has become the therapy of choice for Richard Valerius. He's lived with diabetes since he was 8 years old.

“I feel as though, within a couple of minutes, it is definitely influencing me. Will lower my blood sugar much quicker and it burns out much quicker,” he said.

Insulin is a hormone the body produces naturally. But for diabetics, that process is interrupted.

“When someone has diabetes, they are either not making enough insulin or have insulin resistance that limits their ability to keep their blood sugars in the normal range,” said Dr. Marina Litvin, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine.

Because it’s inhaled, it tends to be absorbed into the bloodstream fast, which means the blood sugar level is quickly affected.

The FDA approved the inhaler was approved in 2014. Some research leading to that approval was done by Washington University School of Medicine, led by Dr. Janet McGill.

“We were very proud of the fact that the studies worked well. Patients did well,” she said. “It was approved by FDA and it’s a new option for patients with diabetes.”

While the powder insulin is not recommended for people with asthma or COPD, it has its advantages.

“It does allow patients more flexibility in terms of how they carry around the insulin inhaler unit,” Dr. Litvin said. “And when they can discreetly administer it.”