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A phobia of needles - how to know if you have it

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Let’s be honest for a second - nobody actually likes getting injections. Of course there are those people who aren’t fazed by any aspect of the experience: they don’t mind the waiting or anticipation; they aren’t bothered by the preparation and small talk with the medical professionals; they don’t seem to care a jot about the sharp needles. But the sharp prick when it breaks the skin, or when it is removed, no one’s idea of fun. Then, there are those people who even just thinking about a needle or getting an injection can induce a range of anxiety-driven responses. It is those people who are said to suffer from trypanophobia - a fear of needles. How do you know if you have it? Read on or do the free fear of needles test.

What is it?

Formally known as trypanophobia, needle phobia is the extreme fear of medical procedures which involve the use of hypodermic needles or injections. It is believed that children are much more likely to be afraid of needles because they are not accustomed to the sensations related to something sharp piercing their skin. To that end, it is common for sufferers to have increased tolerance to needles as they grow older. But, with that being said, according to a study by Target and Harris Interactive in 2012, of the 60% of American adults who refused the flu vaccination, 23% stated that their fear of needles was the reason to not get the shot. This suggests that trypanophobia is still common in the adult population.

How does it start?

There are believed to be a number of ways that the fear of needles can begin. Some such factors can include negative experiences or traumas which came about when exposed to needles, a learned reaction from, or genetic disposition passed on by relatives, or simply hearing about negative experiences of others in relation to injections. There are also some professionals who suggest that simple changes in brain chemistry when growing older can induce the phobia.

In some instances, trypanophobia can be brought on by other pre-existing medical conditions. For example, those with low blood pressure are more susceptible to fainting when pricked by a needle. Those who have medically related fears, or hypochondria, will be more resistant to any medical intervention. And those with a sensitivity to pain, well they are more likely to demonstrate high levels of anxiety during a procedure, particularly one which breaks the skin. So, a fear of needles can quickly develop from these conditions.

There is a school of evolutionary scientists who believe that a fear of needles stems from our survival instinct. Puncture wounds could often be deadly, particularly before modern medicine and antibiotics were available. Therefore, trypanophobia could be born from the avoidance of puncturing the skin, as an evolutionary adaptation.

What can it feel like?

As an anxiety-driven phobia, it bears similar symptoms to other fears. As always, it will differ from person to person; some may fear specific action of the needle piercing the skin; some may fear the sight of the needle and everything after. Either way, the symptoms can be debilitating. For example, an increased heart rate, intense increase in body temperature and sweating, dizziness and even a spike in high blood pressure, can all lead to a panic attack or even fainting. Those who suffer from needle fear can even become erratic and feeling emotionally vulnerable leading to them lashing out verbally or physically, all to avoid or cope with the injection.  

Are there complications? 

Aside from the physical symptoms that come with the condition, trypanophobia can pose some complications which can put your health and wellbeing at risk. When it comes to a phobia of needles, there is the added danger that it can lead to avoidant behaviours: avoiding visits to the dentist or doctor to receive what may be straightforward but important procedures, all to side step the possibility of an injection. The detrimental impact on health is one aspect, but it can lead to fears of other healthcare providers. For this reason, it is deemed vital to seek support for a fear of needles.

All in, trypanophobia is a serious condition which is best identified early and communicated with professionals who are best placed to support you. Are you showing any of the symptoms discussed, or demonstrating avoidant behaviours? Ovrcome are developing a pathway to support those with a fear of needles, using exposure therapy. This positive route can change those reactions and behaviours towards needles for the better. Why not do the free fear of needles test?

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