Do you get goose bumps every time you need to get vaccinated for the flu, and try to come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid going to the doctor? You might just have a condition called needle phobia.
Anually, 20-23% of the adult population is avoiding needle procedures (vaccinations or blood tests) and even postpone medical treatment due to being afraid of needles. This puts a large number of people at big health risks, which usually means more blood work in order to compensate.
Most people with needle phobia are told that they should just “get over it”, so the condition actually has a bad name for not being treated seriously. In fact, it may be considered a serious medical malpractice as it is malpractice to tell a patient suffering from clinical depression to “just cheer up”.
Medical professionals don’t always know how to spot or manage patients with needle phobia, so it is up to everyone to be informed on the techniques to avoid fainting, anxiety or other adverse reactions.
Symptoms just before fainting include:
- dry mouth
- over breathing
- blurred vision
- cold sweating
- anxiety attack
- temporary palpitations
Needle phobia symptoms can vary from one individual to another, as its source may be different, but there is one common strong denominator for all patients: the anxiety attack at the thought of receiving an injection, leading to an avoidant attitude towards it.
Some of the people who have needle phobia don’t actually fear needles at all (some even have tattoos), but they have an extreme emotional fear about experiencing an injection.
The main reason needle phobia should be treated as a medical condition and not just a phobia is that it may lead to more serious consequences such as avoiding medical care for a very long time. Many people would actually rather be sick than having a needle procedure.
Why does it occur?
Identifying the specific causes that are generating needle phobia in individuals can be difficult as each of us have unique experiences and different ways of coping with them.
An upsetting experience of needles that occured in childhood, such as a painful procedure at the doctor or at the dentist may be a trigger.
Hearing about how painful injections are in general or direct observation of someone else being scared of blood tests can have a very powerful psychological impact, especially in children.
Of course, no one likes to get needles, but many people are predisposed to a physiological overreaction. This type of reaction is called “vasovagal reflex” and it manifests itself through a rise in blood pressure, then a steep drop in blood pressure, very often resulting in loss of consciousness, and sometimes even worse physical reactions, such as convulsions.
How do we handle needle phobia?
First thing to do if experiencing any symptoms is NOT to panic.
Fear of needles is a very common phobia and the first step to overcome it is to be aware of your condition and start being in control of it. Above all, the initiative to treat needle phobia must come from within.
It’s important to start as early as possible and not wait until the end-stages. Missing blood tests and vaccines has a real potential to jeopardize your own health.
There are several effective techniques you should try next time you need to go through a medical procedure that involves needles.
Before the procedure takes place, you can:
1. Share your fear with the medical professional.
Addressing both the fear of needles and the possibility of fainting is important. Instead of keeping your fear of needles secret and letting it blow up into an anxiety attack, talk to the medical professional who will be doing the needle procedure.
2. Have a good night sleep and make sure you rest properly.
It’s common knowledge that we are less resistent to pain and more vulnerable when we are tired. That is why being well rested is so important; you need to have enough energy in order to be in control of the whole experience.
3. Have a good breakfast (if you can).
In some situations, such as blood tests, eating before the actual procedure may interfere with the results, but in other procedures involving needles it is actually indicated to eat well before it starts. Low blood sugar and fatigue can exacerbates symptoms and vulnerability.
4. Make sure you hydrate!
Drink lots of water, juice or even Gatorade. People suffering from needle phobia are recommended to drink much more fluids and much more salt than normal, especially if you know you will be symptomatic.
5. Follow a brief desensitization program with a therapist.
If you cannot even bring yourself to get to the doctor’s office, a specialized therapist can help you overcome the over-sensitivity and gain courage.
During the procedure, it is indicated to:
1. Do the procedure lying down.
If your legs are at the same level with your head or above it, you are less likely to suffer from the drop in blood pressure. Blood won’t pool in your legs if they are elevated, so your brain continues to receive adequate oxygen. This actually is one of the most important factors for managing fainting.
2. Distract yourself.
Instead of thinking about what happens in the procedure itself, try focusing on breathing, listening to music, talking to someone, or reading. These are good ways of trying to take your mind of off the procedure and can reduce anxiety.
3. Use the Applied Tension Technique and cross your legs.
Crossing your legs and flexing your arms (not the one in which you are receiving the needle) and legs will help you raise blood pressure. The Applied Tension Technique is a strategy developed to help prevent fainting or help people recover faster if they do faint. The technique involves tensing the muscles in your body, which then raises your blood pressure. If your blood pressure increases, you are less likely to faint. Sit in a comfortable chair and tense the muscles in your arms, legs and trunk for about 10 to 15 seconds. You should hold the tension until you start to feel a warm sensation in the head. Then, relax your body for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
4. Relax the arm that received the needle
If you tense your arm when receiving a needle, it can be more painful. Try relaxing the arm that will be receiving the needle, while tensing the other parts of your body. However, since this can be difficult to do, it’s important to practice before the medical visit. Alternatively, you can use the tension technique before and after getting a needle, but try to release the tension in your body when you actually get the needle.
After the procedure you need to:
1. Sit for at least 15 minutes.
Take your time to relax after the whole process. Ask the medical professional to give you 15 minutes to get back to your normal self. There are many people who experience passing out episodes several minutes after the procedure, so you need to remain still until the symptoms have passed. This is also a good moment to retry the Applied Tension Technique.
2. Immediately lie down and lift your legs (if you feel like fainting).
If you feel like fainting and do not have a place to lie down and elevate your legs, do whatever you can to make yourself as prone as possible. If you do faint, you can speed up your recovery by lying down and elevating your feet.
3. Make sure you stay hydrated!
It’s extremely important for you to remain hydrated. Drinking fluids can help stabilize blood pressure and annihilate needle phobia symptoms.
There is no right or wrong treatment for needle phobia as its roots can be hereditary and sometimes unknown. These steps are meant to help you ameliorate the symptoms; after successfully repeating them for a few times during procedures, you should start feeling less anxious about needles and the symptoms will become less severe overtime. Also, any other anti-anxiety exercises may apply here.
The important thing is to stay focused and feel that you are in complete control over what’s happening to you!