Needle Phobia Awareness 'Trypanophobia' - The Phlebotomy Centre

Needle Phobia Awareness 'Trypanophobia'

What is Trypanophobia?

‘The avoidance, anxiety or distress caused by needle phobia can significantly interfere with a person’s normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, and social activities or relationships’

It is thought to affect up to 10% of the population according to the website Anxiety UK.

Whether you are simply anxious about having injections, vaccinations or have a genuine phobia. The Covid19 Vaccine programme is now steaming ahead, but there is still a group who have significant vaccine hesitancy, is this a factor? The World Health Organisation’s mantra is that Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. Clean water, also considered to be a basic human right, is the ONLY thing that significantly performs better than vaccination, We need to understand more in order to help increase and maintain the uptake of the vaccine and eradicate this awful disease.


What causes fear of needles?

Fear of needles can be your body’s ‘fight or flight’ reaction to perceived danger, or it can be a learned behaviour.

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 to tries to avoid puncture by a sharp object

Whilst you can take steps to overcome your fear, most people will have to face to withstand injections/venepuncture procedures for dental treatment, blood tests, fertility treatments, travel vaccinations, health conditions and treatments, surgery, blood donation, and pregnancy.

Anxiety about needles doesn't have to meet the formal definition of a phobia to cause problems for those that suffer from needle anxiety, the symptoms can range from:

  • Dry mouth
  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Feeling light- headed
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Feeling sick
  • Muscle tension
  • Hyper vigilance


How can you help yourself?

Put things in perspective! Remember, the actual penetration is short lived, and the needle will not be unbearably painful. Yes, it may be momentarily uncomfortable but, there are things you can do to help to prepare and with feelings of anxiety. Such as, distracting your thoughts and using relaxation techniques.

For many people, fear of needles is highly linked to fainting or feeling faint. When the fear is triggered (e.g. by seeing a drop of blood), your heart rate and blood pressure increases (fight or flight mechanism), but then rapidly drops. It is the fall in blood pressure that cause’s fainting.

Most people do not confront their fears because they are embarrassed. Other people feel pure panic when triggered.

Self-help techniques such as; Calming music, breathing exercises, yoga or meditation may be beneficial.

Distraction! This is a great way of coping if you’re focusing on something else your energy and attention is elsewhere, whether its an object in the room, counting things in your surroundings or asking the vaccination team if you can look at your phone, try the AINAR app as this is designed to create a solution for those with needle fear. 

You can’t always bring people to support you, however,  you can bring someone to wait outside and with todays technology you could potentially video call them, if consent is gained from the person performing the test. 

  • Tell the person who is giving your injection or doing a blood test about your concerns. They may be able to answer any specific questions you have, and help you cope with the procedure, you are not alone and won’t be the first person to say this to them! So please don’t worry, the staff looking after you won’t be annoyed or think you are weak– they would like to know so that they can help to support you.
  • Think about whether there has been anything which has helped you to cope in the past?
  • If your fear is linked to fainting, or feeling faint, and your test is not a fasting test, you can ensure you are well hydrated. This will help to prevent you from feeling faint and to recover more quickly if you have a sudden drop in blood pressure.
  • If you feel panicky but you do not feel faint, you can learn a breathing for relaxation exercise.

In more extreme cases anti- anxiety medications may be another option, so speak to your GP. There are also anti histamine medications you can buy over the counter so consult your local ‘prescribing’ Pharmacist for advice. 

 Try this relaxation exercise in silence initially then after the first few attempts try it to music that you find calming:

  • Sit in a comfortable chair
  • Close your eyes
  • Visualise your favourite, or most peaceful place (hold that image)
  • Take a slow, deep breath in so your lungs are full
  • Hold this breath for the count of 3 seconds
  • Breathe out as fully as possible for a count of 5 seconds
  • Repeat this sequence for over 5 times
  • Slowly open your eyes and notice any subtle differences in how you feel, both in your body and your mind
  • With regular practice, you can increase the number of sequences and will notice a sense of relaxation

 You can use this aid to cope with all sorts of situations in life.

There is another therapy recommended by Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital called Applied Tension Technique. This involves tensing the muscles in your arms, upper body and legs for ten to 15 seconds or until you start to feel a warm sensation in your face.

You then release the tension for 30 seconds, before repeating the tense-release sequence four or five times.

Three such sets of the exercise should be done each day for around a week.

Again, it is designed to bring blood pressure levels back to normal — fear can make blood pressure rise then rapidly fall, leading to fainting. 


When to seek professional help?

While the above techniques can make a big difference when it comes to calming nerves, full-blown phobias require professional help.


What is a Phobia?

According to the charity Mind UK many of us have fears about particular objects or situations, and this is perfectly normal. A fear becomes a phobia if:

  • the fear is out of proportion to the danger
  • it lasts for more than six months
  • it has a significant impact on how you live your day-to-day life

People who suffer from needle phobia may also miss out on the most basic medical procedures, to imperative medical treatments.

Whatever the nature of the phobia, it is important to recognise that these fears are very real and debilitating to the sufferer.

Treatment is usually tailored to each individuals’ symptoms but can include counselling, psychological therapy, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural and medication therapies.

Your doctor or mental health professional can explain the options available in your area and help you find the right talking treatment for you. Unfortunately, sometimes NHS waiting lists for talking treatments can be long so remember you may be able to access treatment through the NHS, charities or privately. You can contact the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists for members in your local area.

What about during Pregnancy?

Since having the usual childhood vaccinations this is often the first time a woman will encounter discussions around pregnancy topics such as routine blood tests, NIPT tests, IV drugs, epidurals and amniocentesis. Even without the fear factor, pregnancy causes hormonal and chemical changes within the body leading to poor appetite and a drop in blood pressure. Then add in the traffic jam or rush to get to the appointment, poor hydration and an underlying health condition or two, anxiety levels are now climbing causing more symptoms.   

Speak to your midwife or GP to help you formulate an individualised plan or prescribe a topical anaesthetic cream to support you.


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