What Are the Different Syringe Sizes?

D. Waldman
D. Waldman
Syringes varying in size from 2ml to 20ml.
Syringes varying in size from 2ml to 20ml.

A syringe is a plastic or glass cylinder that contains a plunger that goes in one end and typically has a needle attached to the other. The term "syringe" can refer either to all three components — the cylinder, plunder, and needle — or just to the cylinder portion. Syringe sizes are indicated in milliliters and can range from 0.25 ml up to 450 ml. They also can be stated in cubic centimeters, where 1 cc is the approximate equivalent of 1 mL. These numbers indicate the volume of liquid that the cylinder is able to hold.

A syringe.
A syringe.

When referring to the unit as a whole, syringe sizes also might be given for the needle portion of the syringe because the size of the cylinder is often used to determine the size of the needle that will be attached to it. The needles themselves are categorized by length as well as the needle's gauge, indicating the overall thickness of the needle. Contrary to most measurement systems, the higher the needle's gauge, the smaller it actually is.

A small syringe.
A small syringe.

Insulin syringes, for example, are found in three common sizes: 1 cc, 1/2 cc, and 3/10 cc. The correct size syringe to use is determined by the average size of the dose of insulin that the patient administers. An insulin syringe also can be categorized by how many units of insulin it is designed to hold. Each mL or cc contains 100 units of insulin. A 3/10 cc syringe will hold up to 30 units of insulin, and a 1 cc syringe will hold up to 100 units of insulin.

A person filling a syringe.
A person filling a syringe.

There are other types of syringes, however, that do not include a needle as a component of their design. These include oral syringes, which most often are used to dispense liquids to babies or small children. Oral syringes differ from standard syringes only because of their tapered tip in place of a needle, so the same sizes are used to indicate how much liquid can be contained within the cylinder.

A dental syringe.
A dental syringe.

The final category of syringe contains neither a needle, a plunger or even a cylinder, and they are designed to clear wax and mucous from ear and nasal passages. Their lack of a cylinder means that both ear and nasal syringes are not categorized by standard syringe sizes at all. Unlike injection and oral syringes, this type are created in a bulbous design, comprised of a thin, rubber-like material and tapered to a rounded tip on one end. Ear and nasal syringes are typically found in one standard size, usually about 2 to 3 ounces (57 to 85 ml) in volume.

What is the Smallest Syringe Size?

A closeup of the connection between a syringe barrel and needle.
A closeup of the connection between a syringe barrel and needle.

The smallest syringes on the market are created for microinjection used in scientific research done on very small animals such as rodents. It is necessary to use a very low volume syringe for these experiments to control dosage and to conform to the use of very small needles. Needles used for human subjects would damage the tissue and organs of small animals.

Whereas syringes used on humans have volumes that are measured in milliliters, syringes used for microinjections are so small that their volume is measured in microliters. These syringes fit needles as small as 36-gauge tips which are the smallest needles in existence today. They are only 2.5mm long to avoid over-penetration.

What Is an Average Syringe Size?

There is no commonly used average size when it comes to syringes. The size of the syringe is affected by several factors:

  • The size of the needle
  • The purpose of the syringe
  • The liquid contained in the syringe

Injection Syringes

Syringes that are used for injections can vary in volume from 1ml to 6ml. The syringe size will typically be chosen depending on the volume of medication it needs to hold. These smaller syringes have a higher level of pressure allowing them to deliver medication subcutaneously or intramuscularly.

Tubing Syringes

Syringes used with tubing are larger than those used for injections. These syringes typically have a volume of 10ml to 12ml. The higher volume potential and the lower pressure delivery make these syringes the best choice for central lines and catheters.

Irrigation Syringes

These are the largest syringes with volumes as high as 20ml to 70ml. Irrigation syringes can deliver high volumes of liquid with a pressure low enough to remove debris without causing damage to tissue or tubing.

The most common use of an irrigation syringe is in the flushing of debris from wounds to avoid infection. These syringes are often included in first aid kits to help with wound care. Irrigation syringes are also used to flush tubing used for catheters to clear them of blockages.

Why Are There Different Insulin Syringe Sizes?

The size of insulin syringes varies because the dosage of insulin needed for an individual will be unique. It is best to choose a syringe with a volume as close to the dosage of insulin as possible. This will help to avoid accidental overdoses.

Insulin syringes can be purchased with or without needles. Those that come with needles, tend to come with very fine tips. As diabetics need to take insulin continuously, finer tips can help alleviate the pain and damage of repeated injections.

What Are the Different Types of Syringe Tips?

Syringes that come with attached needles can have a variety of tips. Some of the most common are:

  • Luer Lock tip - these are tips with a screw-on base allowing for secure needle attachment.
  • Slip Tip - these have a smooth open tip to allow for push-on connections.
  • Eccentric Tip - these tips are set off of the center allowing for less angle to be used for penetration of veins or arteries.
  • Catheter Tip - these have a long tip and are commonly used with an irrigation syringe.

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Discussion Comments

anon990246

It isn't so much the size of the needle, as the viscosity and volume of the injection.

orangey03

I administer heartworm prevention to my dogs through a syringe without a needle. I got the ivermectin from my vet, and she instructed me on how much to give to each dog.

The syringe is very small, because it really doesn't take a lot of ivermectin to prevent heartworms. I measure out the medication precisely for each dog, and then I squirt the liquid into their mouths.

They don't like the taste, so they try to fight me on this. It's nice to have a small syringe that can fit most of the way into their mouths so that I can squirt the medicine in before they have a chance to spit it out.

Oceana

@lighth0se33 – Steroid shots are usually delivered through a pretty big syringe and needle. I'm sorry to have to tell you that!

I have had steroid shots to help me get over strep throat and a persistent sinus infection before, and there is a little bit of pain involved. The syringe is fat, and the needle is a big thicker and longer than ordinary vaccine needles.

I think this is because steroids are administered according to the weight of the patient. I am the normal weight for my height, and still, it took a lot of steroid medication to treat me. For an infant or toddler, the syringe probably would have been smaller.

lighth0se33

I've been struggling to get over bronchitis for weeks now, and I probably will have to go to the doctor for help. My friends who have had stubborn bronchitis in the past have told me that a steroid shot helped them recover very quickly, and this will probably be what I receive if I go.

I have never gotten a steroid shot before, but I've heard that the nurse gives it to you in your hip. Does anyone know what size syringe is used for steroids? Is it a huge one?

It seems that the bigger the syringe and needle, the more painful the shot. I'm a little scared to find out how big the steroid syringe will be.

Perdido

My only experience with syringe needles has been my yearly flu shots. The syringes aren't terribly big, and neither are the needles.

I have friends who find huge syringes very intimidating. Some of them have a fear of needles stemming from a time that they were given a painful shot of medication. Personally, I've never had any encounters with giant syringes and needles, so I don't have any problems receiving the flu shot.

The needle doesn't even hurt when it goes into my skin. This is probably because of how small it is. The area gets a little sore a few hours later, but I've been told that is due to the vaccine itself and not the needle.

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