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When it comes to your CGM there is nothing more frustrating than having it stop working or having it fall off before it runs out. While there is nothing in our power that can be done regarding the CGM’s technical aspects, there are few things that you can do to help expand your sensor lifespan.
This is such a great question! I have been wearing a FreeStyle Libre CGM for over 3 years now and I have also tried Dexcom and Medtronic CGM’s so I’m speaking from a place of experience when I say the answer to this question is very variable.
Essentially we are looking at wanting our CGM’s to stay stuck on for 10 to 14 days.
In reality it can be anywhere from 1 hour to 14 days because as you will all know when you are sticking a medical device to your skin it can be a precarious scenario and door frames and things seem to pop out of nowhere.
I would say that without using some kind of protection I get on average 8 to 11 or 12 days but rarely will I get the full 14 days if I am not protecting my CGM appropriately.
With costs ranging from $40 to $100 per week for these devices this skin adherence challenge is one that is worth solving.
To make things easier for you, we put up together a shortlist with actions that will help you extend the period of time you can use your sensor.
There are 2 general aspects to be considered when using a CGM, therefore, we divided our tips into two categories, focused on your skincare routine and on the practical aspects of your CGM.
– with all the daily effort and sweating, there is a lot of dead skin that is left on. Make sure to eliminate it prior to applying your sensor.
– it’s important to wash the site twice: first, wash with soap and water and let dry. Then, scrub the site thoroughly with an alcohol wipe and let dry.
– in order for your sensor to not stop working it is important to keep your skin around between 36°-86° F and to avoid engaging activities that make you sweat before right applying the sensor.
– the most important and simple strategy is to ensure your skin is clean and dry. So for example if I have a shower and apply my new sensor after the shower I make sure to wait until my skin has stopped sweating and conversely I make sure that I don’t put a sensor on within a few hours of exercising. Why? Because I don’t want the adhesive bonding process to be interrupted by my sweating. I also use an alcohol wipe just to ensure the skin is clean and free from anything that will impede the adhesion process. Similarly, when applying patches we want the skin to be clean and dry so I will always use an alcohol cleaning wipe such as Skin Glee, to prepare the skin for the patch or the sensor sticking.
– it is well known that sensors might leave some residue, therefore it’s important to clean the site accordingly. Consider using an adhesive remove
– antiperspirant spray may help with adhesion, but deodorant might not be so good as it has extra chemicals that can irritate the skin.
– while using moisturizing products it’s important to leave some product-free spots for the CGM sensor needle to stick. Otherwise, the adhesive’s chemicals could compromise the accuracy of your readings.
– if you apply the new sensor before bed, make sure the warm-up period of the sensor is complete before going to sleep.
– make sure not to place your CGM where your skin folds when you bend, where there is hair, and/or near your waistband as it will impact the sensor’s lifecycle. Moreover, make sure to change the sites with every sensor session.
– If you are not covering your sensor in any way and you are caught in the rain make sure to dry your sensor thoroughly by patting it with a towel.
– if you feel the need for extra care and assurance you can cover your sensor at any given time with a patch. For example Dexcom G6 stickers can can be cool accessories to match with your clothes, or contrary, to make a statement by being bold. Luckily it happens that we know the best patches around (Not Just a Patch 😉).
Aside from the patches that we mention above, the process that you undertake when applying your sensor to your body is actually probably more important than you realise.
We know this after many years now of supporting customers to get their sensors stuck on their body, so we have built up a significant amount of intellectual property that tells us the best ways to do this.
Some people will have reactions to adhesives and we note that particularly with Dexcom, their customers have complained about reactions to the adhesive that is used in the Dexcom sensors. We must note our gratitude to the likes of Abbot, Dexcom, Medtronic et al…for they have worked to bring us this incredibly helpful technology.
For this reason a barrier wipe like Skin Glu might be helpful to give your skin a bit more protection against nasty reactions. Skin Glu also gives the skin a tacky surface and this just gives a little bit of extra support for people who find it hard with sensors and patches sticking to their skin.
Not Just a Patch is very active in T1D community. We receive many questions from people all over the world and Pete Lomas, the founder of Not Just a Patch, always answers from a place of experience. Here are some of the most common problems faced by people with T1D when it comes to keeping the CGM sensor on and the best solutions for them:
Firstly, it is worth mentioning that Abbott have had a very kind customer service policy when it comes to supporting people wearing a FreeStyle Libre and I for one have been grateful of this. If it’s possible to prove that the reason it falls off is due to a failure of the adhesive on the Libre then it might be worth reaching out to see if they might send you another one for free…. they have done this for me in the past but it is a system that I would not like to see abused
As I also mentioned above it is rare without protection on the sensor that they will last the full 10 or 14 days, this is a general comment and I know there are people who’ve got special skin who find that these devices stay stuck on without any help however I believe for the vast majority of the community this is not the case.
Essentially it will be obvious why the devices keep falling off and for me even if I wasn’t swimming or going to yoga, even just by daily activities, even sleeping, I would find the Libre will get loose or start to get loose around 7 days and then by the last few days if I’ve made it that far it’s very precarious on the skin.
Essentially you’ve got two choices 1) you can be stressed and anxious and keeping a very close eye on your FreeStyle Libre or 2) you can get something to help it stay stuck on and this is where Not Just a Patch comes in for the price of around $1 per week you can save yourself a lot of stress and anxiety on losing your sensor and you can cover it with a patch.
If you believe that your Libre is just not sticking properly then as mentioned above this is where you want to reach out to Abbott and see if you can get some support from them and possibly a replacement sensor.
This is a straightforward NO…. Unless you’re a specialist adhesive manufacturer then you will not be able to reattach the Libre once it’s come off…not to mention getting the filament back into the skin.
Before starting Not Just a Patch I used to develop a makeshift patch.
One question that pops up a lot is “can I cover the hole on my FreeStyle Libre?” The company line on this one is essentially not to cover the hole, however if you dig a bit deeper on that advice you will find that it’s ok to cover the hole, as you can understand the FreeStyle Libre is designed to be worn under clothes and this is why we designed our patches to be made from the same material as your clothing, they are 96% cotton and 4% spandex so there’s absolutely no problem with covering the FreeStyle Libre with our patches.
This one is pretty common, we see it all the time and whether it’s due to the application process or just the fact that it’s very hot and things find it hard to stick to your skin in hot weather, again the solution here is one of our purpose-designed patches.
As with the FreeStyle Libre mentioned above, once your Dexcom sensor falls off, that’s it, you need to reapply another one and start over and this can be an expensive exercise.
Again, worth checking with the company to see if they have a replacement program although I can imagine this will get expensive for the company after a while so don’t rely on it too heavily.
The real solution here is to make sure your Dexcom stays stuck on your skin and we’ve got the solution that will ensure your Dexcom stays stuck for as long as you need.
I’ve always worn my sensors on the back of my arm and I still find this to be the best location, although I personally haven’t tried other locations on my body, I certainly have plenty of contacts who have tried different locations and when you start to ask around you can see that there are people who have tried them in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, on the chest, on the abdomen, on the buttocks and on legs. Disclaimer – check with your nurse, doctor or the manufacturer on these alternative locations.
One thing we have learnt the hard way is that the majority of issues with sticking things to your skin like patches and sensors is that 99% of the time the problem is due to the process and not the product. Meaning, what you do just before and just after applying these products to your skin will determine the outcome.
Are you still searching for a CGM? You can find complete information about every type of CGM and how does a continuous glucose monitor works reading our guide.
Happy Patching my fellow T1D friends!
Pete (the founder of Not Just a Patch)