Does the thought of heading to the doctor’s office make you cringe — just because you might get a shot? You’re not alone – plenty of kids, teens and adults fear needles so much that it impacts their health and well-being. Needle fear is a real thing, and learning how to get over the fear of needles is essential for good health no matter how old you are.
Nobody likes to get a shot or a blood draw, but for some, the fear of needles is so intense it actually causes medical difficulties. While other extreme fears can be avoided – flying, heights, even spiders – most of us have to receive an injection at some point. Learning how to get over a fear of needles will improve not only your comfort level with medical treatment, but also make it easier to get the care you need without being afraid.
Fear of needles is called Trypanophobia, and consists of a few different varieties. Needle fear comes in different types, with some sufferers fearing pain while others fear injections or losing blood. About 20% of the population has a fear of needles, usually relating to one of the following issues:
- Fear of vaccinations and vaccines or faulty medications.
- Fear of pain from the actual needle stick.
- Fear of pointed objects of all types, including pins and needles.
- Fear of doctors or the medical industry.
- Fear of discomfort or nausea during a blood draw.
- Fear of the sight of blood.
Knowing why you are afraid can help you start getting over a fear of needles. Many fears, including extreme fear of needles, begin in childhood; speaking to a parent about any incidents you had as a child may help you identify the origin of your fear. Thinking about needles and injections may be uncomfortable for you, but if you can identify what part of the process you find most scary, overcoming fear of needles will be easier for you.
How to Overcome a Fear of Needles
Realize that the pain will be over in an instant: While young children can’t quantify pain, older kids, teens and adults can. If you are fearful of needles because of pain, realizing that the pain is real, but will be over very quickly can help.
Ask the nurse or phlebotomist for help: Let the person giving you the injection know you are fearful. She can do her best to minimize your discomfort by providing comfortable seating, using a tiny needle and distracting you with conversation.
Request a butterfly: Butterfly needles are used for drawing blood for a variety of reasons, and fear of needle is one of them. Even if you have big veins that are easy to tap, ask that a butterfly is used to minimize your discomfort. Having some control over the process can help you get over the fear of needles.
Adopt a one shot policy for blood draws: If digging around looking for a vein is what makes you dread needles, ask the person who will be drawing your blood to take all the blood they need in one shot.
Don’t let students experiment on you: Doctors, nurses, and lab techs have to learn sometimes, but you have the right to refuse someone who is just learning to start an IV or draw blood. If you are in a teaching hospital or environment, or if more than one person shows up to draw your blood, one of them is likely a student. Respectfully decline and ask for a certified tech or nurse – mistakes in the chair are likely to increase your fear and anxiety, not eliminate them.
You can ask for an expert: If you are in the hospital, ask for a lab tech instead of a nurse. Every hospital has a department full of phlebotomists who just draw blood all day long. You are likely to get a fast, efficient and pain-free stick from someone who does hundreds of them a week than from a nurse who does one a day.
Avoid worrying before your appointment: Let your doctor know you are working to overcome a fear of needles and ask to be informed in advance if a shot or blood draw is scheduled for your visit. Kids and teens are more likely to have shot scheduled in advance, but if you know you won’t be getting a needle every time you visit the doctor, you’ll have a lot less to worry about.
Reward yourself: Even baby steps deserve rewards. If you go to a doctor’s appointment you normally would have skipped due to needle fear, make sure you reward yourself for going. Actually get a shot or blood draw? Make it truly worth it by rewarding yourself with something special. Over time, you may begin to associate the needle with a reward, not with pain or fear.
Numb up before your shot: If you know you’ll be getting a shot, an anaesthetic cream can be applied a few minutes in advance, to numb your skin. Know you are getting blood drawn? A very warm compress can make it easier for the person doing the work and numb your arm a bit, too.
Choose an alternate location: If you have a fear of blood draws, or get lightheaded or sick when blood is drawn from your arm, ask the lab technician to draw from your hand instead. While the back of your hand is a less common site, there are plenty of veins to choose from and the risk of nausea is greatly reduced.
Choose an alternative method of delivery: If you need a flu shot or other preventative, you may be able to get an oral or nasal version instead of a shot. Ask your doctor about alternative ways of getting the medication you need.
Consider behavioural therapy: Fear of needles is a recognized condition included in the DSM 5, so a therapist may be able to help you learn how to overcome a fear of needles in extreme cases.
Desensitize yourself by reading up on how needles work, viewing pictures of needles or reading about the importance of injections. While fear may make you avoid needles and shots, information overload can actually make needles seem routine and non-threatening.
No matter which method you choose to get over your fear, losing it is important. Trypanophobia is one of the few fears that can cause you harm since it often prevents sufferers from seeking out treatment for other conditions.
Do you have a fear of needles? We want to hear about your experiences! Please join in the conversation below in the comments section. Any tips and tricks you’ve learned to overcome your fear may help others too!