- Trypanophobia is an anxiety disorder where an individual fears needles.
- If you have a fear of needles, tell your healthcare provider before administering any shots.
- Breathing exercises, anxiety medication, and therapy can help you overcome your fear of needles.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
While many people don't love the idea of getting poked with an injection, some people have "trypanophobia," which is an intense fear of needles. Approximately 20% of people fear needles to some extent, of which around 10% have trypanophobia. Here's what may cause this phobia and how to overcome it.
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What causes fear of needles?
Fear of needles can be learned or inherent. According to Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, these are some of the causes of this fear:
- Unpleasant childhood memories of injections
- Witnessing a loved one's fear of needles
- A natural instinct that tries to avoid puncture by a sharp object
You can take steps to overcome your fear, to make it easier for you to withstand injections for vaccinations, health conditions, surgery, implants, blood tests, blood donation, or pregnancy.
How to overcome your fear of needles
Trypanophobia can be a debilitating fear; it is a type of anxiety disorder that can result in dizziness, nausea, fainting, and panic attacks.
Here are some steps you can take to overcome this fear:
Inform your healthcare providers about your fear
You should make it a point to communicate with your healthcare providers, like your primary care physician, or anyone who is going to give you an injection about your fear so that they can take steps to help you. This could involve:
What to do if you’re likely to faint during a shot:
- Ensuring that you are seated comfortably before you get started and making sure you can't hurt yourself in case you faint
- Walking you through the injection process, so that you know what to expect and how long it will take
- Distracting you or suggesting ways to help you calm down, like breathing techniques
- Applying a numbing cream to the site of the injection an hour before your shot, so that you don't feel the pain
Focusing on your breathing can help reduce your anxiety. You can try a couple of different breathing techniques and see what works best for you.
For instance, you can try taking deep breaths through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
Distraction can help ease your anxiety when you're about to face a needle, especially if your fear isn't too severe.
"Distraction techniques are helpful for folks with mild fears, but may not provide long-term relief for more severe phobias," says Romanoff.
Consult your healthcare provider about taking anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax or Valium, before you have to get poked with a needle. Your doctor can prescribe the medication for you for specific situations, like when you need to get an injection, for instance.
According to Romanoff, cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) offers a technique known as exposure therapy that can help treat phobias.
"This gradual process would involve starting with the least anxiety-provoking stimuli, like viewing a covered syringe, then viewing the needle, then holding the needle, and so on, until the most feared behavior is reached – receiving the shot," says Romanoff.
This process is carried out gradually, in a safe space, until you are comfortable with each stage, she says.
A fear of needles often goes hand-in hand-with a fear of blood. Romanoff says the same exposure therapy method can be used to treat both phobias.
It is not uncommon for people to faint when they are having blood drawn or getting injections. If you are prone to fainting, you can try drinking a quart of an electrolyte-rich drink and eating something salty, like potato chips, an hour before your shot (if you're allowed to eat before the injection).
Fainting is a result of a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure. Sugar, salt, and minerals help your body retain water, which in turn helps prevent sudden drops in blood pressure, so consuming salty foods and electrolyte drinks before your injection can help prevent a faint.
Even if you're scared of needles, you still need to get all your vaccines, have your blood tested regularly, and take any other injections you need for your health.
Vaccines prevent harmful diseases and play an important role in protecting not only you, but those around you as well, from the spread of disease.
If you have a health condition like diabetes that requires you to get shots regularly, Romanoff suggests listing out the pros and cons of needle use. While facing a needle can cause momentary pain, she says it can be helpful to focus more on the long-term benefits and advantages that that injection can offer you.
If you need to face multiple needles, like a tetanus shot, a flu vaccine, and a blood test, Romanoff says it is up to you to decide whether you prefer to take them all together or space them out.
She says spacing them out can help you slowly overcome your phobia if you use each instance to disconfirm the outcomes you feared. For others, getting it all done at once can be a useful strategy, according to Romanoff.
Needles can cause varying degrees of fear in people, with the most acute form being a phobia known as "trypanophobia."
If you're scared of needles, you should inform your healthcare providers, so that they can try to make you more comfortable.
If your fear is mild, distracting yourself or focusing on your breathing can help you overcome it. However, if it's more severe, you can discuss the possibility of anti-anxiety medication with your doctor, or seek therapy to help overcome your fear.
You may also be able to find alternatives to some injections; for instance, you could opt for birth control pills, instead of a birth control implant. However, many injections may not have alternatives.