Needle Phobia Treatment
a panic attack when the sufferer thinks about, sees or comes into close contact with your object of fear.
The situation in which a needle is used (e.g. an injection or blood test) can also cause extreme disgust.
As a needle phobia sufferer, you know that your emotional responses are irrational, but you are unable to control the symptoms that overwhelm you.
Needle phobia treatment: Confronting avoidance
Avoidance is a common way of coping with a needle phobia and this strategy keeps you safe in the short term. Inevitably, your fear of needles (or the situation that accompanies it) will conflict with other goals like travelling, health changes or external demands from your work situation. This is usually the moment that you contemplate confronting your needle phobia.
The period of avoidance can be extensive. Sometimes it can be years before you are ready to challenge your phobia. During this time, your phobia can transform from being a simple phobia into being a complex one.
Self-help needle phobia treatment methods can be successful when applied with determination however. Furthermore, when medical professionals know that you have a needle phobia, they will usually do what they can to assist you. They want to ensure that their medical administrations (e.g. a blood test to diagnose your condition) do not “flood” your anxiety and make your situation worse in the long term.
Hypnotherapy can be a useful needle phobia treatment method when the situation does not allow for your fears to be dealt with in “chunks”. It can incorporate other research-based methods with rapid results.
Needle phobia treatment: Needle phobia associated situations
Identifying precisely what you fear is an important part of your needle phobia treatment. Sometimes the fear is related to the specific object i.e. the needle. In the majority of cases, it’s the situation in which the needle is being used and other fears that you bring to the situation that heightens your anxiety and makes the situation so difficult to manage.
Other fears can include being disgusted with the sight of blood, coping with pain, a fear of contamination, trusting the medical staff, a fear of fainting and wider issues like coping with embarrassment of panicking in front of strangers.
Here’s a comprehensive list of situations commonly associated with a fear of needles:
- A general fear of sharp objects (aichmophobia and enetophobia) including pins, scissors, pens, pencils etc.
- A fear of medical procedures (trypanophobia) including injections, vaccinations (jabs or shots), blood tests, use of local and general anaesthetic etc.
- A fear of dental procedures (dentophobia) including local anaesthetic for fillings.
- A fear of blood (haemophobia) particularly during a blood test.
- A fear of pain (algophobia or algiophobia) cause by the medical procedure.
- A fear of germs or contamination (misophobia) if the needle or the foreign materials entering your body are believed to be infected. This is common with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
- A fear of becoming ill (nosophobia) from the procedure or suffering illness from any side effects. This is common with hypochondriasis or health anxiety.
- A fear of death (thanotophobia) where is it believed that something will go catastrophically wrong.
By association, a needle phobia can also be connected to wider issues that can intensify your level of anticipatory anxiety. These include:
- A fear of injury (traumatophobia) that might necessitate a medical procedure involving an injection.
- A fear of medical staff (iatrophobia) caused by a distrust of doctors.
- A fear of medical establishments (nosocomephobia) such as hospitals, infirmaries, doctor’s surgeries etc.
- A fear of fainting common with needle-blood-injury phobias and a drop in one’s blood pressure.
- A fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) experienced during medical procedures and where you may have been previously restrained.
- A social phobia (fear of embarrassment); you can feel embarrassed because you are unable to cope with the medical procedure.
- Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or being unable to escape a situation) when you need an extended medical procedure in a hospital as an in-patient.
- Panic disorder (fear of fear) in which you have numerous fears and phobias, and experiences random panic attacks.
- Coping with disgust. This emotion can be ignored in phobias but often contributes to the distress (nausea) suffered in many phobias like needle-blood-injury phobias. You can then fear feeling disgusted and faint.
Needle Phobia Treatment: Living with a needle phobia
It is estimated that up to 10% of the population suffer with a needle phobia. It’s not surprising that this ratio is so high when toddlers are unlikely to understand why they are having an injection and can sense their parent’s emotions so easily. Some parents who have a needle phobia or have other fears (like health anxiety or fear of contamination) themselves are probably aware of the possible parental display of anxiety to their child.
Instead of displaying anxiety, some parents can misinterpret a display of aggression as a show of confidence to their child by using force to complete a vaccination procedure. Restraining your child during an injection will get the job done in the short term, but in the long term it communicates to the child that these procedures are done “to them” (rather than “with them”) and should be completed without their permission. Distrust, high anxiety and physical tension (in a form of claustrophobia) are likely to be experienced in future medical procedures, believing that restraint will be necessary for an injection.
These negative experiences can be traumatic and feel like a betrayal of trust. Misplaced reassurance can also feel like a betrayal when adult authority figures or medical staff try to dismiss a child’s concerns with “everything will be fine!” only for the child to experience that the injection was anything but fine! Or when you are also told that “this won’t hurt a bit” and it does hurt more than a bit.
The anticipation of pain then becomes another feature of the procedure to be managed for those with a growing fear of needles. A child who anticipates or fears pain will increase tension in their arm muscles (or site of the injection) as a reflexive defence mechanism. Having an injection into tense muscle will feel more painful.
The anticipation of these feared experiences can be learned directly or vicariously (through significant adult authority figures). They can also be learned indirectly from a friend’s account of their negative experiences and from media sources. With the latter, children can be easily convinced by television medical dramas. They portray medical traumas so realistically that children can associate pain, blood, medical errors, distrust etc. into the anticipation of their next medical procedure. It’s not surprising that some children will avoid watching these programmes despite them being considered family viewing, often citing what they have seen on television as a secondary cause of their fear of needles.
In UK, several vaccinations are available throughout childhood. Fear of needle sufferers who avoid these vaccinations can risk contracting an infectious disease themselves and then spreading it to other members of the community who cannot be vaccinated. Then there is the issue of delaying an early diagnosis and treatment of a medical condition when avoiding having blood tests. Being hospitalised for a medical emergency or serious medical condition can mean confronting several fears within a short period of time with a possible need for injections, blood tests, the insertion of a cannula and possible surgery.
The fear of needles with some dental procedures can also become an issue when local anaesthetic is needed for fillings in deeper cavities. Communicating your fears to your dental practitioner can help ease your anxiety and help how these situations are managed. But for some dental patients however, the sensitivity of the site of the injection (into the gum) is too distressing when compared to say, having an injection into the arm, regardless of how much the dental practitioner can help to ease your anticipation.
But it’s not just medical and dental situations that are affected by a needle phobia. Children with a fear of needles can miss out on school trips and hinder family holidays abroad as there are many countries that require proof of vaccination before being able to enter the country.
For some young children who are disgust sensitive, having a medical or dental procedure with needles can also mean rapidly learning about and experiencing medical situations as the “subject” before they are ready to accept it. These medical concepts can include: the skin and muscle being pierced by a needle, foreign materials being injected into the body, the sight of blood, a tourniquet being used to bring the vein to the surface in the arm, a sample of blood being taken from your body etc. Coping with these medical concepts before the child is ready to understand and be naturally curious about the human body can cause them to feel disgusted, nauseas and feel faint. Fainting when feeling disgusted is not usually a medical concern, but it can still cause the child embarrassment and insecurity; something that they would want to avoid around people that they don’t trust.
During teenagehood, social anxiety (social phobia) tends to dominate a teenager’s choices, usually avoiding attention and embarrassment where possible. A fear of needles can be difficult to admit to one’s teenage peers when it might provoke ridicule from them. But then without the confidence to admit a fear of needles and face the possible taunting, a teenager with social anxiety may try to suppress their anxiety. The suppression of emotions can cause them to come to the surface when you least want them to be released. Risking a panic attack in the queue leading in to the school medical room or school hall will draw lots of curious, negative attention from your peers. You then risk being labelled by those insensitive members. But there are alternatives. Fortunately, when social anxiety adds to the general anxiety experienced with a fear of needles, the vaccination may be possible at your local GP surgery.
As avoidance behaviour takes its grip with a fear of needles, the condition can rapidly convert into a needle phobia. The young adult may be faced with a variety of new situations where they need to confront their fears. Vaccinations are advised when studying at a university and could again be essential if travelling abroad during a gap year.
Certain career choices can be limited without confronting a needle phobia. When joining the military services, vaccinations will be needed when being deployed abroad. Or if you choose a career in medicine, the ability to perform medical procedures is essential unless you choose a non-clinical medical career.
In adulthood, a needle phobia can continue to affect your personal life. If you avoid vaccinations, it will restrict some holidays abroad with your partner. It can also cause your partner unnecessary worry when certain medical conditions need blood tests to be fully diagnosed or treated. Then in a progressing relationship, deciding to have children will mean confronting your needle phobia with possible vaccinations needed during pregnancy and with medical procedures needed during child birth.
The effect of the coronavirus pandemic has meant that many needle phobia sufferers have had to re-evaluate the effect of their avoidance behaviour in order to be protected against covid-19 and limit its spread to other vulnerable people. When seeking an effective needle phobia treatment, many will have resorted to self-help methods or accessed help from a therapist.
In summary, without you seeking an effective needle phobia treatment, living with a needle phobia will restrict your life in many medical and health-related situations. Being open about your needle phobia can be a limited way of coping with it. When healthcare providers know that you have a fear of needles, they can offer you some short term assistance to get you through the procedure.
For many needle phobia sufferers, once the needle phobia has developed however, it’s the anticipation and other connecting fears that make the medical procedure so distressing. An untreated needle phobia can associate claustrophobia, fear of blood and injury, panic disorder, agoraphobia into the complex experience. So even when a medical procedure is completed, the experience is not considered an emotional achievement. Instead, it serves as yet another anxious trauma and a setback to your confidence. You view the situation as something that you survived “with no other choice” and would still prefer to avoid these situations when you do have a choice. Very few people “want” to have an injection or a blood test, but when you can focus on the benefits and freedom that it offers you, a medical procedure with a needle can become something that you gradually accept and learn to manage.
Needle phobia treatment: Causes of a needle phobia
Direct learning from personal traumas is considered to be one of the main causes of a needle phobia. Vicarious learning from authority figures and media sources can also contribute to external factors that cause a needle phobia. Certain endogenous factors (within the individual) can include one’s biology and personality. Click this link for more information on the causes of a phobia.
Needle phobia treatment: Needle phobia symptoms
The symptoms of a needle phobia can be intense and debilitating. They can be triggered by seeing a needle or watching a procedure with a needle on television. Your reaction can seem disproportionate the actual danger that you are faced with, but this does not calm the severity of your response.
When the needle phobia is related to anxiety, symptoms common with a panic attack can include a rapid heart rate, strained breathing, profuse sweating, trembling, severe muscle tension etc.
Some needle phobia sufferer’s reaction is related to disgust (and a possible vasovagal syncope – the potential to faint caused by numerous potential triggers). Symptoms can include fainting, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, clamminess etc.
It’s not unusual to have anxiety and disgust symptoms common in both categories listed above.
Treatment for a needle phobia
Treatment for a needle phobia is usually treated in the following ways. Anti-anxiety and sedating medication can be prescribed from your GP. This will help to reduce your anxiety symptoms when you need to have a medical procedure using a needle.
Medication can also be combined with therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy to help you challenge your fearful thoughts and feelings. Your therapy can also include exposure therapy which involves being gradually exposed to situations involving needles. Techniques include learning to cope with these progressive situations using breathing techniques.
How can hypnotherapy treat you needle phobia?
People with phobias tend to be highly receptive to hypnosis (you can assess your level of suggestibility using this hypnosis test.
Your needle phobia treatment will use a combined approach including controlled exposure, visualisation, hypno-analysis, anxiety control and regression to remove the “cause” of your needle phobia. There is more information in this link on how hypnotherapy can treat your phobia.
Can your needle phobia treatment be completed remotely?
Yes, if you do not live in the Cardiff area or you are unable to travel to the practice, then your treatment can be completed remotely by video call.
Here is more information on remote hypnotherapy.