Trypanophobia is a very real phobia affecting nearly 3.5 to 10% of the world’s population. It consists of an irrational or excessive fear of needles, pins or injections. While most people, children especially, fear getting their vaccination shots or blood samples taken, in case of people with extreme fear of needles, the idea of getting one triggers an immediate anxiety response.
In very severe cases of Trypanophobia, the avoidance, anxiety or distress associated with the condition may interfere with one’s daily routine, occupational functioning or social and personal relationships.
Causes of the fear of needles phobia
Before discussing common causes of Trypanophobia, it is first essential to distinguish between normal childhood fear and actual fear of needles phobia. Crying, tantrums, clinging, freezing in children before an injection shot is common behavior in preschoolers but will not interfere with one’s daily activities. In adults however, the phobia can lead to behavior problems as well as extreme avoidance and anxiety symptoms.
Doctors have various explanations for the fear of needles phobia:
- Injections are generally unpleasant for most people. In case of Trypanophobia, the person might have a painful memory or a frightening experience with his first injection. For a child, getting an injection from a doctor, a stranger, is in itself frightening. S/he is unable to understand why the parents are not protecting one from the pain.
- Parents, grandparents and caregivers may also be responsible for instilling a fear of needles in the child. One often uses statements like: “Stay away from infected needles, you may catch a disease”, or “be brave when you get your shot” etc and these can lead to fearful thoughts about needles.
- If a significant adult in one’s life displays the fear of needles, then the child unknowingly learns it.
- A child might have seen an elderly relative receiving a shot and then passing away later. This forms an unpleasant association between needles and death.
- Receiving bad news like testing positive for a serious disease after a blood test or that of the death of a close friend/family member while seeing needles at the same time can lead to fear of needles.
- Drawing blood, feeling faint, or having an increased heart rate are a few more negative associations with needles. Some individuals simply worry about embarrassing themselves by fainting and hence they tend to avoid needles completely.
Symptoms of Trypanophobia
Symptoms of the fear of needles phobia can be physical or psychological:
- Feeling faint, passing out at the sight or thought of needles
- Having an increased heart rate or blood pressure
- Shortness of breath, dry mouth, tremors, and nausea are a few more physical symptoms of Trypanophobia.
- Full blown panic attack is likely when the person fears s/he cannot escape the needles
- Frightening thoughts and images about needles, death, pain etc lead one to be unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
Apart from fear of needles, many Trypanophobic individuals fear everything related to blood and gore.
Treatments available for overcoming Trypanophobia
- As is the case with other phobias, Trypanophobia can be overcome by using systematic desensitization. This process involves gradual exposure to needles so that, with repetition and practice, the process of getting an injection loses its ‘anxiety-causing’ power. This therapy can be self administered, or one can take help from a therapist.
- Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive behavior therapy are other techniques that help manage the negative thoughts and responses to needles and injections. Strategies implemented here include writing down fearful thoughts and changing them into positive ones etc.
- Another highly beneficial therapy that takes effect in a very short time is one-on-one clinical hypnotherapy. These sessions induce deep relaxation in the patient and help explore roots of the phobia. Visualization techniques can be then utilized cope with the fear in a positive manner.
- Self help techniques like deep breathing, meditation and muscle relaxation are also recommended for overcoming Trypanophobia.
Trypanophobia is a phobia affecting many people. However, it need not take control over one’s life and simple exercises and practices can be used to overcome it.