Fear of Needles: Trypanophobia and How Do I Beat It

Needle with a prescription bottle next to it.

While getting a shot or having blood drawn likely isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, for nearly 50 million Americans, it can be a downright traumatic experience. Recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, trypanophobia (or the fear of needles) is one of the top ten fears in America.1 Fortunately, like most phobias, a fear of needles can be conquered over time.

But before you can learn to beat your trypanophobia, you must first know from where it stems. Learning how to overcome this fear can not only lift this overwhelming feeling of dread, but it also promises better health through blood testing options.

What Causes the Fear of Needles?

If you’ve ever taken a child to the doctor’s office for shots, you know it can be a challenging affair. It doesn’t take a medical expert to know that children hate getting shots for one obvious reason: shots hurt. Children are especially sensitive to needle pricks as they cause a sensation that’s both unfamiliar and unpleasant and even at a very young age, the mere presence of a needle or medical environment can be enough to have children on edge. And for many adults, this apprehension lingers.

As far as why some adults never outgrow their fear of hypodermic needles, doctors can’t definitively say why.2 As with all phobias, the fear of needles can sometimes be attributed to previous traumatic episodes or lingering negative experiences. Growing up with parents or guardians who have an aversion to needles can also be a contributing factor as attitudes and fears are learned by younger generations.2

In addition, not every case of trypanophobia is identical. In fact, there are four key types of needle phobia:3

Vasovagal

Those who squirm at the sight or thought of needles piercing skin and are subject to vasovagal syncope, or fainting due to a decrease in blood pressure.

Associative

Those who associate needles with a traumatic experience and suffer psychologically as a result. Anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks are common in these instances.

Resistive

This refers less to the needle itself, but more to the thought of being restrained for the procedure. Those with resistive fear are subject to elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and even the urge to physically fight back against the person performing the procedure.

Hyperalgesic

Relatively uncommon among trypanophobics, this type of fear is related to one’s hypersensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia) and corresponding hatred of the injection procedure itself. Those with this type of needle phobia often require a form of anesthesia for injection procedures.

Overcoming a Fear of Needles

One way people have overcome their aversion to needles on their own is through a moderate intervention known as exposure therapy.5 By subjecting yourself little by little to images and videos of needle procedures, and eventually the real thing, you may find the experience less jarring over time.

Of course, this process isn’t for everyone. If you are prone to fainting, severe anxiety, physical illness, combativeness, you may want to seek professional assistance from a psychologist or counselor. This is especially true if you are diabetic or have another issue that requires daily or frequent injections. Most adults require shots so infrequently, that immediate professional assistance is not necessary. In the most extreme of circumstances, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety or sedative medications to help ease the stress associated with needle procedures.

Conclusion

Priority Health Testing offers several laboratory testing options in a range of categories and many do require a blood sample. We try to make our processes as quick and as painless as possible for our clients.

Unless the particular test forbids it, we recommend drinking plenty of water ahead of your test. Doing so will help to hydrate your veins and make your draw even quicker and easier. And if you or your child are apprehensive about the pain caused by the needle, check to see if the facility near you offers “Quiggles”, a kid-friendly device that offers a soothing vibration and cold compress to the draw area (and don’t worry, plenty of adults use the penguin-shaped device as well). If you ever have any questions about our testing procedures, feel free to contact one of our care counselors who’ll be able to clear things up and, hopefully, help you overcome your fear of needles.

Sources

  1. Jenkins, K. “Needle Phobia: a Psychological Perspective.” British Journal of Anesthesia, July 1, 2014. https://www.bjanaesthesia.org/article/S0007-0912(17)31538-6/fulltext.
  2. Shmerling, Robert. “Terrified of Needles? That Can Affect Your Health.” Harvard Health, April 27, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/terrified-of-needles-that-can-affect-your-health-2021042722470.
  3. Hamilton JG. Needle phobia: a neglected diagnosis. J Fam Pract. 1995;41(2):169-175.
  4. Orenius T, LicPsych, Säilä H, Mikola K, Ristolainen L. Fear of injections and needle phobia among children and adolescents: an overview of psychological, behavioral, and contextual factors. SAGE Open Nursing. 2018;4:237796081875944. doi:10.1177/2377960818759442.
  5. Carmin, Cheryl. “How to Overcome a Fear of Needles.” Ohio State Medical Center, October 31, 2019. https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/shot-anxiety.