Skip the Alcohol Swab?

By MAYS Latest Reply 2013-12-25 05:44:24 -0600
Started 2012-06-15 10:08:20 -0500

Here are a few reasons to reconsider using an alcohol swab when preparing your finger, or an alternate site for blood glucose testing.

There's no need to sterilize your finger with alcohol before pricking it for a blood sugar reading.

In fact, there are several reasons not to do it.
You don't want an infection on your poor pincushion fingertips, right?

If the concern causes you to swab your digit with alcohol before your blood sugar check, switch to soap and water instead.

Here are three reasons why it might be better:

1. The test strip that measures your glucose levels are made with a substance that reacts to sugar by turning color.

2. Alcohol can destroy this substance and cause a false low blood glucose reading.

3. Alcohol dries out your skin and can lead to broken skin near your nails. If all the alcohol doesn't evaporate before you stick your finger, you may feel stinging as well as the discomfort of the poke.

Washing and drying your hands is all you need to prevent infection. Just be sure that your hands are dry and that you've gotten all the soap off before you do your reading.

If your glucose monitor instructions include alcohol swabs, make sure your finger is totally dry before sticking it.
If the alcohol is still wet, your blood sugar reading could be inaccurate.
If using soap, make sure the soap doesn't have honey or any sweet additives in it.

Researchers at Jutendo University School of Medicine in Tokyo tested a small group of healthy volunteers’ blood-sugar levels before having them peel oranges, grapes, and kiwis.
Between fruit-peeling sessions, each volunteer would follow up with one of three hand-washing scenarios.

1. Not washing his hands before having his blood-sugar retested

2. Washing his hands with tap water before retesting

3. Swabbing his fingertip with an alcohol swab before retesting

When volunteers washed their hands with tap water, their blood-glucose measurements were similar to those of control subjects who had not handled any fruit. Perhaps not too surprisingly however, when the fruit peelers didn’t wash their hands at all, their blood sugar levels were abnormally and significantly higher.

But here’s where things get interesting…and unfortunately it’s not in a good way.

When the recommended alcohol-swabbing technique was used their blood sugars were equally abnormally high! To make matters worse it didn’t appear to matter if they cleaned their fingertips once or five times with alcohol swabs…the numbers were still way off.

Of course, if you take things just one step further, the most frightening implication of these findings is that artificially-elevated readings could easily cause someone to overestimate his medication needs and take too much of his diabetic medication or insulin.

The bottom line is that despite what your meter’s directions might say you should be washing your hands with tap water in addition to the swab every time you use it.

They say that cleanliness is next to godliness, but in this case clean fingers just might save your life.


17 replies

JSJB 2012-10-07 14:19:19 -0500 Report

I stopped using the alcohol wipes and starting washing with soap and water. The reading with alcohol were 120 to 135, with soap and water they came down to 100 to 105. Will wash with water only and see what the numbers are. I take met and amlodipine/benazepril in the morning and met in the eveniing.

CJ55 2012-06-21 05:18:16 -0500 Report

Than you for the info. The swabs were drying out my fingers and burning alittle when using. I now only use hot water and soap.

gbc43 2012-06-21 05:27:29 -0500 Report

yes to a worm water to get the blood going , don't use the pads but the sides to draw blood.

irishbear 2012-06-17 10:41:37 -0500 Report

I kinda suspected this on my own, thanks for the info that confirms my suspicions! I think hand washing is better also because when your washing and drying your hands your sort of massaging your hands to help the blood flow. I was told this helps to get enough blood without having to prick more than once.

JSJB 2012-06-17 03:32:09 -0500 Report

Good info, I have been using alcohol wipes and my readings were low. Now after two tests with just washing with soap, they are a little higher. Maybe I'm using the wrong soap. I hear ivory has a type that is free of additives and then again I might not be washing the sight good enough:) will keep trying.

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2012-06-16 16:24:48 -0500 Report

Discovered yesterday that moist wipes do not substitue for hand washing before testing. Was out and about and wanted to check after trying a Mexican Food place. Well, BG was a little higher than expected. Stopped where I could wash with soap and water, BG was 30 points lower. About where I figured it should be.

techguy87114 2012-06-15 20:37:43 -0500 Report

Great bit of info for those that use swabs! Its soap and water for this type 2 !

Thanks for sharing .


DeanaG 2012-06-15 16:59:15 -0500 Report

Thank you for sharing!
I used alcohol wipes until I attended my Diabetes Education classes when I learnt the info above, now it is soap and water for me. ;-)

Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2012-06-15 11:28:05 -0500 Report

I use soap and water. Also do not use antibacterial hand cleaner. It contains alcohol. If you are a big use of antibacterial hand cleaner. You should wash your hands with soap and water after every 3 times you use the hand cleaner. It can cause a build up on your skin and can dry out your hands. I got that tip from a dermatologist.

jayabee52 2012-06-15 10:21:50 -0500 Report

I used to use alcohol to wipe my fingers for a number of years, but I learned about 2.5 yrs ago that it was unnecessary to use an alcohol wipe (I think it was through DC). Now I learn that it might have been the SOURCE of aberrent readings? Thanks for sharing this with us Mays!

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