Trypanophobia—Overcoming the Fear of Needles

Symptoms, Causes, Dangers, and Treatment

Asian boy receiving injection in hospital
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Trypanophobia, or the fear of needles, affects an estimated 10 percent of Americans, yet it wasn't recognized as a specific phobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the manual clinicians use to diagnose mental health disorders, until the 1994 4th edition (DSM-IV). This disorder is generally referred to simply as “needle phobia” by the general public but it's specific to medical needles.

Symptoms of Trypanophobia

If you have trypanophobia, you may dread receiving medical care, particularly injections. When you are required to undergo a medical procedure, you are likely to experience high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate in the hours and days leading up to your procedure. However, at the time of the event, your blood pressure may rapidly drop. You may even faint.

Dangers of Trypanophobia

Aside from the physical symptoms that usually accompany this condition, trypanophobia has the added danger of potentially altering behavior. People may avoid visiting the doctor or dentist so they don't have to have any injections.

Although the actual phobia is of needles, it can lead to a more generalized fear of medical and dental healthcare providers. In extreme cases, the sufferer may refuse to receive even routine checkups.

Causes of Trypanophobia

Scientists are still unsure precisely what causes needle phobia.

It seems to be inherited, as an estimated 80 percent of those who have the condition have a close relative that suffers from the same phobia. However, it's possible that the fear is learned rather than biologically inherited.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that the fear may be rooted in an ancient survival technique.

Puncture wounds could be deadly, particularly in the days before modern antibiotics. It's possible that a fear of puncturing the skin was an evolutionary adaptation.

Treating Trypanophobia

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been highly effective in treating trypanophobia. Through techniques such as systematic desensitization, a variation of exposure therapy, you can gradually learn to tolerate needles. Some experts have also found success using hypnotherapy with their patients.

The goal with these interventions is to gradually expose you to needles in a controlled, safe setting, beginning with seeing a syringe without a needle, then a syringe with a needle, and eventually allowing you to handle the needle. 

Needle-Free Medications

Of course, with new routes of medication distribution being developed all the time, a person with trypanophobia may be able to receive important treatment without being exposed to needles at all. For example, a nasal spray form of the flu vaccine called FluMist has been approved for use in most healthy people and is particularly useful for vaccinating young children.

There's also now jet injection, which forces medication under the skin using high pressure.

Jet injectors are less painful than a needle injection, decrease the risk of accidental sticks to healthcare professionals, and they're convenient since they can be used to self-medicate. Jet injectors are likely to become prominent in healthcare in the future.

Researchers are working on possible needle-free ways of testing diabetics’ blood sugar and performing other needed medical tests. However, there are some medications that need to be given intravenously, making the use of a needle unavoidable.

Treatment Can Help

Trypanophobia is a serious condition that should be treated, as it could eventually lead you to miss out on medical care you need.

And if a loved one has this phobia, take his or her concerns seriously. With the proper treatment, it's possible to overcome this potentially serious phobic condition.

Sources:

Logomasini MA, Stout RR, Marcinkoski R. ​Jet Injection Devices for the Needle-Free Administration of Compounds, Vaccines, and Other Agents.​​​ ​International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding. July-August 2013;17(4):270-80.

McMurtry CM, Noel M, Taddio A, et al. Interventions for Individuals With High Levels of Needle Fear: Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials and Quasi-Randomized Controlled TrialsThe Clinical Journal of Pain. 2015;31(Suppl 10:S109-S123. doi:10.1097/AJP.0000000000000273.

Taddio A, Appleton M, Bortolussi R, et al. Reducing the Pain of Childhood Vaccination: an Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline (Summary).  CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2010;182(18):1989-1995. doi:10.1503/cmaj.092048.