Disposable syringes commonly are used in modern medicine for the injection of drugs and vaccines or for the extraction of blood. The often are used instead of reusable syringes in an effort to avoid spreading a disease. Among the common uses of disposable syringes are the injecting of insulin by a diabetic person and the administering of a local anesthesia by a dentist.
A medical syringe that is used to give shots to more than one person without being properly sterilized is a potential source of disease. This can be an especially pressing concern in poor or undeveloped areas, where an injection often cannot be given under ideal medical conditions. Therefore, disposable syringes often are favored over reusable syringes for vaccines, in order to avoid the risk of transmitting blood-borne diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis from one person to another. Needle-exchange programs that provide intravenous drug users with disposable needles and syringes are based on the same idea, because reuse and sharing of infected needles by drug users is one of the principal ways HIV is transmitted in the developed world.
Provided that it is always used by the same person, reusing an insulin syringe does not present the same degree of risk as sharing needles. However, there still are risks, especially for a person who already is suffering from an infection, has a weak immune system or has a wound or sore on his or her hands. If the needle also is reused, it can become blunted and make injections more painful. Thus, disposable syringes for administering insulin are used commonly by diabetics, though alternative methods such as insulin pens have grown in popularity.
One-time use syringes also are used to inject anesthetics for medical procedures. They can be used either alone or in combination with anesthetic gas for general anesthesia. They can be used in combination with anesthetic spray or cream for local anesthesia. The syringes used by dentists to administer local anesthesia before drilling or pulling teeth are a common example.
Disposable syringes sometimes are used for drawing blood samples. They allow greater precision than evacuated tube systems, so syringes used together with butterfly needles often are favored when drawing blood from children, from adults who have thin blood vessels or from patients who are suffering from muscle spasticity or nervous tremors. They also are used when blood is being drawn from a vessel very close to the skin, such as those in the wrists and hands.
The disposable syringe originally was patented in 1949 by Arthur E. Smith. The first mass-produced disposable syringes were released by Becton, Dickinson and Company in 1954. These syringes originally were made of glass, but modern versions usually are made of plastic.