It is no secret that humans are not fond of needles. Nobody likes their arm to be wrapped in a tight tourniquet, only to be poked and prodded until blood is drawn. Unfortunately, needles are a necessary evil, as they are utilized for vaccinations and to assess a person’s general state of health. Children are commonly fearful of needles, but typically outgrow their fear as they get older. They are able to come to the realization that needles cause mere moments of discomfort, but do not result in lasting pain. Unfortunately, there are some individuals that never seem to outgrow this fear, which is commonly known as trypanophobia.
Trypanophobia, or needle phobia, is the fear of medical practices that involve needles, shots, or drawing blood. Some individuals are fearful of passing out, becoming dizzy, or collapsing from an injection. Other people may be apprehensive about potentially being restrained or held down, which is a common occurrence when one resists a shot or needle.
Trypanophobia can arise from a multitude of factors, including past trauma, detrimental past experiences, a vulnerable temperament, or learned behaviors. Symptoms can occur when an individual either sees a needle or is informed that they will have an upcoming experience with one. The mere sight of a needle may trigger negative memories or traumatic experiences from the past, launching them into a full-fledged panic attack.
Symptoms of trypanophobia can include lightheadedness, passing out, and apprehension. Other physical symptoms can include elevated blood pressure and a quickened heart rate. Insomnia and panic attacks can arise from obsessively thinking and from talking about needles. This fear may cause one to become overly emotional or physically aggressive and can instigate them to sidestep or retreat from essential medical care.
A diagnosis of trypanophobia is rendered if the fear of needles has either obstructed or hindered at least one aspect of a person’s life. Symptoms can be powerful and incapacitating, which can significantly impact a physician’s ability to provide medical treatment and care. Trypanophobia may also cause unfortunate delays in a treatment regimen or protocol. This can be increasingly problematic when one is managing a chronic or long-term condition that requires consistent care. Trypanophobia can also be challenging if a person is in need of unexpected acute, short-term, or emergency care.
Treatment interventions for trypanophobia seek to address the underlying root of a person’s phobia. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps an individual to change their thought patterns so that feelings and behaviors can be altered. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been successful in the treatment of trypanophobia, as individuals are taught to change their cognitions on how needles are viewed. People are also taught coping mechanisms and anxiety management techniques to help them to mitigate fears.
Exposure therapy is another type of therapy where individuals are purposefully exposed to needles and thoughts that they generate. Interventions begin with exposure that causes a small amount of anxiety and builds up to situations that elicit more intense anxiety. Medication can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy to address anxiety and stress that is linked to needles.
Children are typically fearful of needles, as they are unsure about the process or level of pain that a needle might produce. Most children go on to view needles as unpleasant, but fail to develop a significant or debilitating fear. Other children grow up and retain this fear, which can intensify and cause distress. Trypanophobia can best be managed by targeting the underlying cause of the phobia, either through psychotherapy or medical intervention. Whatever the underlying fear, needles need to be tolerated so that a person can obtain the necessary preventative or routine medical care to keep them well.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.