The Fear of Needles - Trypanophobia

23 December, 2019
The fear of needles can turn a routine medical test into a nightmare. Luckily, there are treatment options for it.
 

You have a specific phobia when your fear or dislike of a situation becomes paralyzing. The fear of needles, for instance, interferes with the daily lives of those affected by it. The limitations are many as they refuse to undergo any necessary medical interventions. They may even abandon medical professions because they can’t bear to treat injured people.

This phobia appears during childhood, around the age of seven to nine. There seems to be a genetic component to it. For instance, there’s a high probability of replication in first-degree relatives. Also, some characteristic physiological responses set this phobia apart from the rest. Medical professionals know it as the biphasic response.

A child afraid of injections.

What’s a specific phobia?

You can tell a person has a specific phobia when they display an excessive, irrational fear of certain objects. But it also applies to a fear of certain situations. That person might avoid contact with those objects and situations. In addition, they might endure them with great discomfort. They’ll experience anticipatory anxiety at the very thought of ​​coming into contact with something they fear.

 

People with trypanophobia experience anxiety at the sight of wounds, blood, and needles. A phobic person will avoid all contact with these elements. In fact, they’ll remove themselves from hospitals, churches, and even violent films.

When they can’t avoid the things they fear, it triggers their anxiety. It can manifest in several ways: nausea, dizziness, sweat, and paleness. They may even faint! It happens fast and might last approximately 20 seconds, so the person recovers in no time. The question is, why does it happen?

Biphasic response

The most characteristic component of this type of phobia is the biphasic response. It happens after exposure to the feared stimulus and manifests physiologically. There are two parts:
  • There’s an increase in the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Because of this, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heart rate increase.
  • Immediately afterward, there’s a sharp decrease in these parameters. It leads to dizziness and then fainting. This is what doctors refer to as vasovagal syncope. The prevalence of fainting among people with this phobia is approximately 50%-80%. As you can see, it’s quite significant.
 

What leads to the fear of needles?

  • Sensitivity to disgust. Some state that people with this phobia have a greater predisposition to disgust. Thus, when faced with a feared stimulus, their disgust activates. This leads to nausea and other symptoms that, in turn, lead to fainting.
  • Hyperventilation. Hyperventilation happens in the presence of a feared stimulus. This is because it helps relieve discomfort. But it produces a deficit of carbon dioxide in the blood that leads to a partial or total loss of consciousness.
  • Attention bias. It seems that people with a fear of needles have a faster attention bias. It’s also more effective in locating stimuli related to their phobia. Thus, they tend to interpret them as more threatening. This leads them to adopt avoidance behaviors.
A woman afraid of needles.
 

Treatment for the fear of needles

The two main focuses of treatment for this phobia are: applied tension and live exposure. The first of these aims to prevent fainting. It consists of tensing a group of muscles to increase pulsations and prevent syncope. Thus, it’s an effective, simple treatment because it increases the feeling of control of an individual over their phobia.

But live exposure is about gradual exposure to the feared stimulus. They do so without allowing the avoidance response. A person looks at bloody images and procedures, such as wounds and injections. They must remain in this situation until their anxiety decreases. Thus, when they no longer avoid it, they realize how harmless it is and their anxiety goes away.

In conclusion, this disorder conditions the life of a person affected by it. This is because it keeps them from watching certain movies and exercising certain professions. It even deters them from approaching injured people. Above all, it makes a person incapable of performing any medical procedures they might need. The good news is, psychological therapy can help them overcome this phobia along with its limitations.

 

Bados, A. (2005). Fobias específicas. Vallejo Pareja, MA (ed.) Manual de terapia de conducta1, 169-218.

Pinel, L., & Redondo, M. M. (2014). Abordaje de la hematofobia y sus distintas líneas de investigación. Clínica y Salud25(1), 75-84.