WARRENVILLE, Ill., Aug. 4, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Everyone is afraid of something, such as spiders, heights, flying or confined spaces. One common phobia has taken on new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts are worried that people with a fear of needles, also known as trypanophobia, may avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Most people aren't fond of shots, but they understand the benefits. For someone with a true needle phobia, the fear takes over and causes severe feelings of dread and anxiety.

"Even hearing or thinking about vaccinations may be enough to elicit a reaction in a person with trypanophobia," says Jacqueline Sierzega, PsyD, clinical psychologist with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, part of the Edward-Elmhurst Health system in suburban Chicago. "Symptoms of needle phobia can include anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, fainting, insomnia, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, or feeling emotionally or physically aggressive."

The causes of trypanophobia aren't known, but genetics, changes in brain chemistry and past traumatic experiences may play a role.

An analysis by researchers at the University of Michigan showed that 20-30 percent of adults studied cited concern about needles, ranging from mild anxiety to a phobia strong enough to keep some from seeking medical care. 

A fear of needles can deter people from having other vaccinations, blood tests, contraceptive injections, surgical procedures and other necessary medical interventions.

Whether needle phobia is keeping someone from getting the COVID-19 vaccine or causing distress about it, there are ways to overcome the fear:

  1. Seek professional help. A professional therapist has knowledge and experience in helping people with phobias, such as fear of needles.
  2. Ask a doctor about medication to help manage anxiety. Some patients benefit from a topical anesthetic to numb their arm before the shot.
  3. Look at positive posts and photos of people holding their COVID-19 vaccination cards. This may help someone associate the vaccine with positive feelings.
  4. Practice deep breathing exercises (this can help someone cope during their vaccine appointment, too).
  5. Focus on the benefits of the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine is a safe and effective tool to protect people against a potentially deadly virus.

Once a vaccination appointment is scheduled, people will likely still feel anxious about the shot if they have needle phobia. These techniques can help people stay calm during the appointment:

  1. Bring a support person. Some vaccination centers may not allow it, but people can ask ahead of time for a special exception.
  2. Tell the nurse about the fear before getting the shot. The nurse may be able to explain the steps, count down, etc. to give someone a sense of control.
  3. If someone feels faint, tensing muscles or making a fist could help. They may even ask the nurse if they can get the shot lying down.
  4. Don't look. There's no need to look at the needle, it will only increase anxiety.
  5. Distraction. Listen to a song or watch a video, practice deep breathing or tune into your senses. 

"It's OK to be nervous, but after your vaccination, try to talk about the experience in a positive way," says Sierzega. "This will affect how you feel about it, which is especially important if you need to come back for a second dose."

For more information, visit www.EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

SOURCE Edward-Elmhurst Health

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