Insulin and Airport Screening

Has anyone ever heard of airport screening x-rays being detrimental to insulin? I recently asked my pump manufacturer if it was okay to detach from my pump and put it through the screening machines along with my carry-ons (I’m getting tired of going through with my pump and being put in center court to wait for an attendent to come pat me down). I was told that this would NOT hurt the pump (as opposed to MRIs and body x-rays, which CAN harm the pump), but that they were “concerned with the integrity of the insulin due to the high heat”. I have always put my insulin in my carry-on baggage and never knew that it was being exposed to heat when it went through the screening. One would think this would need to be publicized if it were true–not just for pumps, but for all insulins and even some other medications.

Interesting topic. I have always put my insulin (I currently take shots) in the tray with my keys and wallet so it never goes through the screening. I always did this because I always carry it on me. I have only had the TSA question it once and another TSA agent who had a Diabetic relative knew what it was and let me pass.

So, do you think one should put any insulin that one is carrying (before pump, I used two types and carried a spare of each, sometimes in addition to the pen I had to use on the plane–now I will be carrying a vial or two, what is in the pump, and at least one pen in case of emergency) in a tray that will NOT go through the machine? When I empty my pockets I always put that tray of stuff on the belt with everything else. Now that I am on the pump, I am guessing that I could hand the inspector my pump for a visual, but do I need to dig out all the extra insulin and have that hand inspected as well? I’m not worried that someone will not know what insulin is, but the idea that it is being exposed to high heat and therefore is being compromised concerns me. This is probably all very silly, since I am sure there are thousands of people who travel every day with insulin and no one has ever mentioned that the insulin needs to be treated specially, but why would the pump company say this?

I asked my doctor about that before my first flight, and he told me it would not harm my insulin or meter/test strips.

Thanks! I’ll have to check that out. I was told that doctors’ prescriptions are not required because the authorities recognize that they are too easy to fake. It is the heat I am questioning. Any thoughts?

i had lots of the issues with always getting the ‘pat down’ - a security agent once told me, put your insulin pump in the middle of your body - clipped to your pants right over your zipper…that will keep it from setting off the sensor—

Ever since i started doing that, i have not set off the alarm.

Seems way easier than disconnecting.

Wow! I will definitely try that! Last time I was told to put it in a pocket without the clip. Hmmm… which to try first?

I travel frequently and always carry my insulin in my carry-on. I’ve never had any problems. My pump usually doesn’t set off the metal detectors, but every once in a while it does (especially when I am outside of the U.S.). I’ve noticed that if I’m wearing a belt it always sets it off (even if the belt is a cloth belt). Last time I traveled the security guy said it is somewhat hit or miss - it depends on what else you are wearing and what else might be going through the metal detector at the same time. I am definitely going to try the zipper thing!

Read this article, x-rays don’t really hurt anything organic unless you do it thousands of times in quick succession. I asked my engineer husband the same question about my pump and he quickly disabused me of the notion that an x-ray machine damages electronics.

I went to Milan and I never once got asked about my pump. The key is to take the clip off because it contains metal that sets the alarm off on the sensors. Keep the pump in your pocket and don’t say anything unless asked.

Sarah, you have given exactly what I was looking for! Manny–take note! This is why TuDiabetes works! Our collective intelligence is over-whelming. I was just at Joslin’s, and they suggested contacting the insulin manufacturer. I figured they would answer on the conservative side (as Lily did), just to be safe. Domo arrigato for this article Sarah. I will pass it on to my D-team and to the pump manufacturer. Now that that is answered, here’s another one for you: can my CAT go through the screening x-rays???..

I do not put my insulin through the x-ray machine for carry on. I read the article regarding the testing that Novo did with insulin and airport x-ray but the key problem is the study does not tell us any of the variables.

-Which insulin type was used?
-What was the length of time that the insulin was exposed?
-At what power was the x-ray machine set (this varies from airport to airport)?

There are other variables besides those listed that could impact the testing and the subsequent outcome.

The important thing to look at is this …

What happens if the ‘bad’ side of the results happen. For example, insulin is exposed to too much x-ray or for too long. What happens then? The way I look at it … if this means that the efficacy of your insulin is compromised (and it is four bottles) what will you do to replace the insulin? Or worse yet, is there something besides efficacy that could be changed (i.e. will I become ill) by exposure to x-ray.

I guess what I am saying is that I weigh what my efforts will be IF the negative happens rather than on the possibility of the negative happening.


p.s. the x-ray for checked baggage is MUCH more powerful. And it is super cold in the luggage area… so definitely don’t check your insulin.

A lot of unnecessary concern about the safety of items passed through airport screening machines has gone around over the years. I suspect the individual you talked too simply was repeating some urban legend they’d heard and hasn’t really seen any evidence to support any reason for concern.

I travel often, and always wear my pump in a nylon holder on my belt. It’s never set off the alarm. And I always let my insulin remain in my carry-on bag as it goes through the scanner.

Here’s what the Health Physics Society (specialists in radiation safety) says about this issue:

Q) Can the airport x-ray screening devices damage medications? I’ve heard that there are doctors who will write notes saying their patients’ medications cannot be x rayed but I see no reason why the screening process should affect medications.

A) You are right, there is no reason the screening process would affect the medications. Although the medications would be x rayed, the radiation dose is several orders of magnitude below which we might even consider an effect.

I travel every week for work, and I always put my insulin through the machine. I’ve never had an issue, and I’m putting the same pen through the machine probably 4-6 times before it’s used up.

you may find that since security measures are a bit intense at the moment, that the pump will set off the sensor. i carried a loaner pump with me to europe and hand-carried it through with me. i was told by the pump company (animas) that the pump itself should not go through x-ray. in fact, they include a card with security protocol in a variety of languages. i still had many arguments with security people over it, but i stuck to my guns. my insulin has always gone through in my carry-on and my purse, and i’ve never experienced any problems.

I traveled to california in december right after the whole 9/11 thing happened. I missed my flight because they wanted to question me about my pump…2 hours later they told me that next time ill have to have 2 doctors notes or letters notarized with a seal in order to take my pump with me. Just because people were panicking over 9/11, im exotic looking, and i have an insulin pump? jeeze. Ive never flown since so i can not be of much help

I have flown a few times in the past several years. I haven’t had any trouble with the insulin. I have only flown once since I got my pump. I took it out of my pocket and showed it to the TSA agent & asked him if I needed to take it off and he told me no. So I put it back in my pocket. It didn’t set off the alarms.
But I did take a note with me from my doctor stating that I needed to keep my pump and all supplies with me at all times. And I took the prescription labels for all the other medications with me also.
This was right after the liquid scare in London and the start of the whole 3oz of liquid thing.

Remember, when pets go to the vet they get X-rays too. No different than with people.
I just got back from flying to NY and the only issue they had was when I put my pump in one of my shoes when I put them in a tray on the conveyor belt - apparently stuff in your shoes is a no-no.
I agree with Ken (at least, after having been informed about how concern for this kind of stuff being damaged is something of an urban legend/myth). There are a LOT of misconceptions about X-rays and other diagnostic tests that have any kind of precautions attached. Glad to help dispel at least one of them.

I am shocked that NONE of you looked this up in the Transportation Security Administration’s own memos! They say NOT to allow insulin, whether in a pump or spare insulin, to be screened by the x-ray machine! With repeated exposure, it can denature the insulin. It can gradually make the insulin less effective. Why risk it? Ask the attendants to visually inspect your pump and your extra insulin. They have been instructed to do this since the TSA memo in 2006! Most of the people at the gates do not know about this, but it is in their own regs. This problem has been written up in the New York Times and other places: ask them to visually screen your insulin. Do NOT put it through the x-ray machine. Most doctors do not know about this either. If you look carefully at the Medtronic literature, the pump will not be harmed, but the insulin might. My pump always sets off the metal detector. I ALWAYS ask the attendants to visullay screen anything containing inusulin. They try to put it into the x-ray machine. You have to watch them and ask that they visually screen it.