Trypanophobia, fear of needles, commonly known as needle phobia, is the extreme fear of medical procedures involving injections or hypodermic needles. This is a specific phobia and is extremely common yet not very well recognised. It is thought to affect between 3.5 % to 10% of the population. The avoidance, anxiety or distress caused by needle phobia can significantly interfere with a person’s normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, and social activities or relationships.
If you have needle phobia, you may dread receiving medical care, particularly injections. When you are required to undergo a medical procedure, you are likely to experience high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate in the hours and days leading up to your procedure. At the time of the event, your blood pressure may rapidly drop. In extreme cases some people may even faint.
Aside from the physical symptoms that usually accompany needle phobia, it has the added danger of potentially altering behaviour. People may avoid visiting the doctor or dentist so they don’t have to have any injections. Although the actual phobia is of needles, it can lead to a more generalised fear of medical and dental healthcare providers. In extreme cases, the sufferer may refuse to receive even routine check-ups.
Like many fears, needle phobia can stem from a variety of experiences or conditions. On a logistical level, a person might have very small veins, which can make it difficult for blood to be drawn, sometimes necessitating multiple needle sticks as the clinician attempts to locate a good vein. But there are plenty of psychological reasons behind having a fear of needles too.
“Needle-phobic people may have had previous painful experiences with injections or vicariously through witnessing a family member having had an undesirable experience with needles or injections. Other potential reasons for having a fear of needles can include generalised anxiety or having a sensitive or negative temperament, previous trauma, sensitivity to pain or memories of painful needle sticks and a fear of being restrained.
Scientists are however still unsure precisely what causes needle phobia. Many believe it to be inherited, as an estimated 80% of adults who have the condition reported having a immediate relative that suffers from the same phobia. However, it’s also possible that the fear is learned rather than biologically inherited. Some evolutionary psychologists believe that fear may be rooted in an ancient survival technique. Puncture wounds could be deadly, particularly in the days before modern antibiotics. It’s possible that a fear of puncturing the skin was an evolutionary adaptation.
Of course, with new routes of medication distribution being developed all the time, a person with needle phobia may be able to receive important treatment without being exposed to needles at all. For instance, jet injection forces medication under the skin using high pressure. Jet injectors not only reduce the pain and fear associated with needles, but they also eliminate the risk of accidental needle sticks. Jet injectors are likely to become prominent in healthcare in the future. There are ways of testing blood sugar and performing other needed medical tests without needles. However, there are some medications that need to be given intravenously, making the use of a needle unavoidable.
Like the causes of a needle phobia, the possible ways to help can be both physical and psychological. For example, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure therapy can all be useful in treating various types of phobia.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) has been highly effective in treating needle phobia. Through techniques such as systematic desensitization, a variation of exposure therapy, you can gradually learn to tolerate needles. Some experts have also found success using hypnotherapy with their patients.
The goal with these interventions is to gradually expose you to needles in a controlled, safe setting, beginning with seeing a syringe without a needle, then a syringe with a needle, and eventually allowing you to handle the needle.
In more extreme cases, some people find taking antianxiety medications helpful as well as nonmedical anxiety-reducing techniques, like deep breathing, reading, listening to music or watching a video. Children may also fare better if they are offered a reward after receiving their injections or having their blood drawn,
If the physical pain is the root cause of the fear, there are numbing creams or gels that may be applied over the injection site prior to the medical visit as well as devices that can transmit cold and vibration sensation to the skin to distract from or divert the actual pain sensation from the needle or injection using the concept of “gate control theory of pain.”
Needle phobia is a serious condition that should be treated, as it could eventually lead you to miss out on medical care you need. And if a loved one has this phobia, take his or her concerns seriously. With the proper treatment, it’s possible to overcome this potentially serious phobic condition.