In medical literature, fear of needles is commonly known as needle phobia. It’s the extreme fear of medical procedures that involves injections or hypodermic needles. It’s occasionally mentioned as aichmophobia.
Moreover, since the mid-2000s, it has also been mentioned as trypanophobia. However, the proper usage and the origin of this term might bring heavy controversy. Despite the fact that an estimated 10% of Americans struggle with this condition, it wasn’t recognized as a specific phobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-4) until 1994. (Source)
Children are mostly diagnosed with this phobia as they aren’t used to their skin being pricked by sharp objects. They’ll be able to tolerate needles or any kind of sharp objects once they reach their adulthood. However, this situation might also stay with them in their adulthood, making this phobia more intense.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of trypanophobia can greatly interrupt a person’s quality of life. Sometimes, these symptoms can be so extreme that they can even weaken the person with this condition.The following symptoms come into view once a person with this condition sees a needle or is told to go through medical procedures involving needles:
- Anxiety attacks
- Panic attacks
- High blood pressure
- Racing heart rate
- Feeling emotionally or physically violent
- Avoiding or running away from medical care involving injections or needles
Mainly, these are the symptoms a trypanophobic person experiences whenever they see a needle or whenever they are informed that they have to go through medical treatment that is associated with injections.
Causes of Fear of Needles
Doctors and researchers aren’t exactly sure what the causes of this phobia are to develop into some people. However, the specific symptoms that are produced by this phobia are directly connected to its fundamental cause which makes it rather straightforward to determine the actual source and treat it.
Fainting is typically considered one of the causes of this phobia. Those who suffer from severe dizziness or fainting when they come into contact with needles, often have a vasovagal reflex reaction which sometimes runs in the family. This theory suggests that some people might inherit this phobia biologically.
However, many doctors believe that fear is learned rather than biologically inherited. Also, people who go through emotional reactions like anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, etc. are suffering from sentiments that are mainly provoked by recent experiences or imaginations. Therefore, this fear of them gets activated at any time.
Moreover, some people have a genetic condition that can make them extremely sensitive. They are unable to understand how other persons except them to tolerate the enormous pain of a shot bravely. As a result, they have a reaction to the pain with high anxiety, blood pressure, and high heart rate, at some point during the procedure.
Besides, whenever a person watches someone else taking an injection or medical care involving needles, then it’s bound to get empathetic towards them. So, it can be said that empathy is another major cause of trypanophobia.
How to treat the Fear of Needles?
Treatment for the fear of needles aims to identify the fundamental cause of this phobia. So, the treatment for this phobia might be different than the rest of the phobias. Most people diagnosed with trypanophobia are suggested to some kind of psychotherapy as their treatment, which may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and medication.
In CBT, you'll have to explore your fear of needles in therapy sessions learn techniques in order to cope with it. In this process, your therapist will aid you in learning various ways to think about your fears and how they are affecting you. Therefore, you’ll be able to walk away with a new level of confidence and feel mastery over your thoughts and fears.
Exposure therapy is also quite similar to CBT. The main objective of this process is to change your mental and physical response to your fear of needles. In this process, you’ll be exposed to needles and the related thoughts they can trigger by your therapist.
For example, your therapist might first show you some pictures of a needle, have you hold a needle or sit next to a needle, or even make you imagine that you’re getting an injection.
If you get stressed enough that makes you unresponsive towards psychotherapy, then medication is a must. Anti-anxiety and sedative medications will relax your body and brain enough to reduce the symptoms of your phobia. Medications can also be used when you're going through medical care involving needles like blood tests, vaccination, etc.
Societal and Cultural Impact of Fear of Needles
Patients with trypanophobia develop a tendency to avoid health care and the health care system as long as possible. They develop a fear for blood testing and immunizations and therefore, also avoid them as long as possible. As a result, their school, employment or travel opportunities get heavily interrupted.
Moreover, when people get involved in an accident and get themselves drastically injured, they need blood in order to survive. Those with needle phobia often avoid giving them blood which might create some difficulties. Also, they might face some legal problems for not complying to donate blood.
Besides, blood tests are often required for marriage licenses and prenatal care. Since trypanophobic persons have difficulty doing blood tests, their personal decisions get heavily affected.
How common is the Fear of Needles?
According to Michael Dr. McG, trypanophobia is actually quite common. About 25% of adults are fearful of needles and 7% of adults try to avoid immunization due to their fear. The approximation of trypanophobia ranged from 20 to 25% in adolescents and 20 to 30% in young adults.
Besides, it’s more common in females rather than males. However, this condition decreases by growing age.
What should you do if you have the Fear of Needles?
If you want to manage your trypanophobia and don’t want to worsen it, then you should try to identify its fundamental cause. Once you’ve successfully identified them, then you should stick to your treatments as it’s very important.
There is a slight possibility that you might never get over your fear of needles. However, the least you can do is to adapt to this condition to live like a normal person.