All of us have had at least one fingerstick test at the doctor’s office. Children get them. Pregnant women, too. Blood sugar testing is done on everyone. But when you have diabetes, sticking your finger is a daily reality. For people with Type 1, the checks must sometimes be done hourly. When I developed Type 2, the doctors said to monitor once a day, and my journey with glucose monitoring began. The first blood glucose meter I received needed a large suspended drop of blood from my finger, so my fingertip stayed sore for days. It was not hard to tell which fingertip to avoid for the next blood check. After starting on insulin, I had to monitor several times a day, but by then the meters had improved. Only a tiny drop was enough for a blood check, and the lancets were needle thin. No mark was left afterward, so it was impossible to tell which finger I used last. However, every blood sugar check still meant getting a drop of blood and facing the possibility of pain. There was also the cost of a test strip and lancet, which needed to be disposed of in the proper way. That process has not changed over the last 15 years. Is pain from blood sugar testing avoidable or are traditional, invasive methods the only options available?
Doing research on diabetes for my website, I found out that there are people with Type 2 who refuse to monitor. I read about a doctor who had worked in the field of diabetes research and blood sugar monitoring for years.
Then he himself developed Type 2 diabetes. He followed his doctor’s advice faithfully about diet and exercise and took his medicine every day, too. But he absolutely would not check his own blood sugar at home.
He is just one among many with diabetes who cannot face pricking a finger and using a glucose monitor. The blood, the pain, the whole process is too much for them. It seems their only hope lies in a monitor that does not need a drop of blood to measure blood sugar.
The search for painless blood sugar monitoring devices
The search for a noninvasive blood sugar monitor began many years ago. Google is now working on a contact lens that will let you know your blood sugar level. Theirs is the most famous in a series of attempts to try contact lenses.
Others have tried using saliva or inserting a coil between the eyelid and the eye. Another method that’s been tested is using infrared laser light to check glucose levels through the skin. Someone has developed an earlobe clip that uses ultrasonic, electromagnetic, and thermal imaging all at the same time.
One company in Israel, Cnoga, has developed an optical sensor that “reads” your skin color. To use it, you have to prick your finger in the usual way during an initial two-week calibration phase so the monitor can learn how your skin shows blood sugar levels. After that you simply insert your finger into the monitor, and it is supposed to accurately read your blood sugar level. However, it is not currently available in the United States, which may be one reason we do not hear much about it.
The list goes on. An affordable noninvasive monitor always seems to be just around the corner. So with all the promising starts and glowing reports, why are we still pricking our fingers?
Because researchers cannot seem to get around the fact that you need blood to check blood sugar. Ideas that seem wonderful keep turning up but have to be abandoned because they simply do not pass independent accuracy and dependability tests.
However, great personal and financial rewards wait for the person who comes up with a noninvasive blood sugar monitor. So people will keep trying. One day we will have a monitor we can afford that does not need test strips and lancets.
In the meantime we have to keep pricking our fingers with sharp points, putting blood on test strips, and waiting five seconds for the numbers. But when I look at the choices people with diabetes used to have, I am grateful.
Home monitors have saved countless lives. If you are feeling a bit off or if you wake up in a sweat, you need a reliable method to check your blood sugar quickly.
Because you have diabetes, you need to know your blood sugar before and after exercising. When you get sick, you need to monitor your blood sugar often. And before you get behind the wheel of your car, you should check your blood sugar.
We have come to depend on home blood sugar monitors to warn us of sudden lows or persistent highs. Since we rely on them so much, they need to be accurate, safe, and inexpensive.
Avoiding pain from blood sugar testing: Is it possible?
It looks like we will have to continue using traditional monitors for a while. So how can we avoid as much pain as possible?
Most modern monitors offer the choice of monitoring somewhere other than the tip of your finger, what are called alternate test sites. This seems like a great idea, but it has a downside.
Checking anywhere other than your fingertip or palm does not give an accurate reading of your blood sugar at the moment. There is a roughly 30-minute lag when you check on an arm or leg.
So if you are feeling the symptoms of low blood sugar, you need to check on your fingertip or palm to know what your number is at that moment. Blood sugars can plummet too quickly to allow for a 30-minute delay.
You might also use too much or too little insulin based on a reading from your arm or leg. So you are “stuck” with using your sensitive fingertip or palm for the best immediate blood sugar readings.
But there are other things you can do to lower the chances of pain when you prick your finger. Never use a finger that is already sore. Use a different finger each time. Do not prick the top of a fingertip. The sides have fewer nerve endings, but still have plenty of capillaries.
Use the thinnest lancet available, and adjust the lancing device so it does not prick too deeply. Start shallow and adjust until you get the tiny drop you need from the newer monitors. Those monitors are available free from the big companies.
Do not use the same lancet over and over. They get dull, which hurts more. And do not squeeze your fingertip to get blood immediately after pricking the finger. Instead, wait a moment, then try massaging from the base of the finger upward to encourage blood flow.
Nurses used to give us alcohol swabs for cleaning our fingers. Now they say not to use alcohol at all because it dries the skin, which can lead to pain and other problems. Just wash your hands in soap and warm water and rinse and dry them well before you monitor.
Use your blood sugar monitor everyday
The most important advice I can give is to use your monitor every day. Find test strips you can afford and get the free monitor that goes with them. Your monitor stands between you and serious complications from sudden low blood sugars and persistent highs. Don’t leave home without it and don’t try to live without it. I wish you all the best.
Want to learn more about managing blood sugar? Read “What Is a Normal Blood Sugar Level?” “Managing Your Blood Glucose Ups and Downs”, and “Blood Sugar Monitoring: When to Check and Why,” then see our blood sugar chart.