Nobody likes to get stuck on a needle. Whether for a blood test, vaccination, or blood donation, needle sticks are something most people would prefer to avoid.
However, as measured by routine vaccination and test schedules, the average healthy person can expect at least 165 needle sticks over their lifetime. Be hospitalized? That could add dozens or even hundreds more. The number of needle sticks in people with diabetes, HIV, and some other diseases is in the “don’t ask” range.
For many, this is more of a hassle than a real problem. But if you have a severe fear of needles or dislike the sight of blood, get a vaccination or other needle prick is a big thing. If this sounds like you, you may have trypanophobia.
What is trypanophobia?
Fittingly, the name combines the Greek term Trypan – which means puncturing or pricking – with phobiawhat fear means. This remarkably common condition is characterized by irrational, extreme fear or aversion to blood or needles. It is estimated that needle anxiety affects up to 25% of adults, and 16% of people in the US can skip vaccinations. Many people who are very afraid of needle sticks may avoid doctors and medical care. Hence, the extent of this problem is likely to be underestimated.
Just to be clear: this phobia is Not limited to people who are overly sensitive to pain or are not “tough enough”. It can affect anyone. The cause is often unknown, but a particularly traumatic experience during a childhood medical illness can set the stage for some people. And there can be a genetic component. Researchers have found genes related to fainting after pinpricks, and trypanophobia sometimes runs in families.
What are the symptoms of this phobia?
It may affect people with trypanophobia who are contemplating a needle stick
- Fear or anxiety
- Panic attacks, nausea, or sweating
- Fainting (due to a reflex in which pain or the sight of blood makes blood pressure drop)
- Insomnia in the days or weeks before an expected needle prick.
How does the fear of needles affect you?
This fear can affect yours
- Life quality: It is quite uncomfortable to spend weeks dreading an upcoming doctor’s appointment.
- bless you: Skipping the recommended tests and treatments to avoid needle sticks can lead to misdiagnosis, poorly monitored disease, and under-treatment. A current example is not having a vaccination against COVID-19, which can have serious or even fatal consequences. In addition, drug dealers sometimes play with the fear of needles in their advertisements or downplay the fact that a drug requires an injection.
- Longevity: Skipping routine medical care can contribute to preventable suffering and death. For example, a cancerous breast lump that may have been discovered during the routine examination may not go unnoticed until much later, when it is no longer curable.
What can you do to cope with the fear of needles?
There isn’t a lot of high quality research on how best to treat trypanophobia. Still, experts suggest a number of options to help people deal with it.
- Bring assistance if allowed. This is routine for young children. But holding hands or hearing the voice of a spouse, trusted friend, or family member can calm adults too.
- Harness the power of distraction (see this amazing video of a pediatrician distracting a young child before a vaccination). Focus on something other than the pinprick: a stain on the floor, the positive effects of a COVID-19 vaccine (hugging your family soon!), Or your upcoming vacation.
- Tell the person who gives you a shot or draws blood that you are struggling with this and let them know what works best for you. Some people prefer to hear about each step before it happens so that there are no surprises. Ask if the healthcare provider has tricks in the field to help you get through.
- Ask the person who gives you a shot or draws blood if they can use a numbing agent like novocaine or a freeze spray to numb the skin before a needle stick.
- Don’t watch It is not helpful to watch all of the preparation for the needle stick or the needle itself. Watching can make matters worse.
- Learn ways to relax. Try deep breathing or other relaxation techniques that you can practice before you get the needle prick.
- Also relax the muscle that is being injected. Some shots, like vaccines that protect you from tetanus or COVID-19, are given in a muscle. Relaxing the muscle can relieve the pain from these shots.
- Lie down before the needle prick if you have passed out or felt light-headed with needle pricks.
Can therapy help?
It can be helpful to see a mental health specialist. He or she can recommend
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that teaches people how to redefine unhelpful mindsets and develop coping strategies.
- Exposure therapy, a gradual and controlled increase in your exposure to needles that can reduce the panic they cause. For example, over several weeks, you may be instructed to look at photos of needles, then hold a syringe without a needle, then hold a syringe with a needle, and then imagine an injection – all under the guidance of a therapist – before you actually have it one.
- Medications, such as anti-anxiety drugs or tranquilizers, can be prescribed when other measures are ineffective and the fear of needle sticks is hindering medical care (or just making you unhappy).
The final result
It is natural to have an aversion to pain even when you know it is coming, even though there is a good reason for it. So, if you are among the millions to worry about a COVID-19 vaccine, blood test, or other needle stick, you know you are not alone and that you can take steps to improve the situation. Talk to your doctor about your anxiety and get help if you need it. Your quality of life, health, and longevity may all depend on it.
I’ll do what I always do: avert my eyes and stare at that spot on the floor.
Follow me on Twitter