Diabetes: How to Give Glucagon
People with diabetes sometimes get very low blood sugar. If they are unconscious, they need glucagon right away.
Glucagon is a hormone that raises blood sugar quickly. It can be given as a shot or as a powder that's sprayed into the nose.
If someone close to you has diabetes, you may need to give them the glucagon shot or nose spray during a low blood sugar emergency.
Learn the steps for how to give glucagon either as a shot or a nose spray. Keep the instructions with the medicine. Review the steps often, and check the expiration date on the glucagon medicine.
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Giving the shot
A glucagon kit has a syringe that contains liquid. The kit also has a bottle that contains the medicine, which is a powder.
Follow the instructions in the kit to mix the powder and the liquid. Put this mixture back into the syringe. Make sure you have the amount of glucagon that the person's doctor recommends.
Choose the injection site.
Choose a clean injection site on the buttock, upper arm, or thigh. If an alcohol swab is available, use it to clean the skin where you will give the injection.
Insert the needle.
Keeping your fingers off the plunger, hold the syringe like a pencil close to the site. Then insert the needle.
Give the injection.
Push the plunger of the syringe all the way in so that the medicine goes into the tissue. Give the amount of glucagon that the person's doctor has recommended. Remove the needle from the skin slowly and at the same angle that you inserted it. Press an alcohol swab, if you used one, against the injection site.
Turn the head to the side.
After giving the injection, turn the person's head to the side, to prevent choking if they vomit.
Call for emergency help.
After you give the glucagon shot, immediately call 911 or other emergency services. If emergency services have not arrived within 15 minutes and the person is still unconscious, give another glucagon shot.
Give quick-sugar food.
Give some glucose tablets or quick-sugar food such as hard candy or juice when the person is alert and able to swallow. Also give the person some long-acting source of carbohydrate such as crackers and cheese. Stay with the person until emergency help arrives.
Anytime a person who has diabetes gets glucagon, they should talk to a doctor to try to find out what caused the low blood sugar. Some causes include too much insulin, a missed meal, and insulin injected into a blood vessel. Other causes include an illness other than diabetes, liver damage, and kidney damage. Low blood sugar can also be caused by exercise or a new medicine.
Giving the nasal spray
Glucagon nasal spray is absorbed through the membranes in the nose. It doesn't have to be inhaled. It will work even if the person getting the medicine has a cold. Follow the directions with the device.
- Pull on the red tab, and remove the shrink wrap from the bottle.
- Remove the nasal spray device from the bottle. Don't push the plunger until you're ready to give the medicine.
- Hold the nasal spray device between your thumb and forefingers.
- Put the tip of the device into one nostril until your fingers touch the nose.
- Push the plunger firmly until it stops. This completes the dose.
- Turn the person on their side in case of vomiting.
- Call 911.
When the person is alert and able to swallow, give a quick-sugar food like juice or jam. Glucose tablets will also work.
If the person isn't alert in 15 minutes and you have another spray device, you can give a second dose. (Each device contains one dose.) Their blood sugar should be checked for several hours after glucagon is given.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & David C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology