When I was about 10 years old, I went to a pediatrician’s office knowing that I would be getting a TB test where they puncture your skin with a needle. I was so scared that I ended up passing out after they administered the test. Turns out I am part of the 25% of Americans who experience anxiety about needles. Although I have gotten over the extreme fear I used to have, needles make me extremely uneasy, and I am certainly not alone.
About 5% of people suffer from trypanophobia—”marked by irrational, extreme fear or aversion to blood or needles,” according to Harvard Health. The problem with having a fear or phobia of needles is that it may cause adults to delay doctor’s visits, vaccinations, medical procedures or routine tests. For children, a fear of needles often causes trips to the pediatrician to be more than just unpleasant. And in some cases, an adult with a fear of needles may extend that fear to their children.
Why do some people experience a fear or anxiety of needles? Experts say there could be a variety of reasons—stemming from a past physical or emotional trauma with pain, and a mental or physical condition or disability, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Experts recommend a variety of strategies to help calm someone who experiences a fear of needles. First, educate the patient (or yourself) about why the procedure is needed and what benefit it provides. If seeing needles or vaccinations make you queasy, don’t expose yourself to photos and videos of needles and shots. Look away from the procedure when it is being done. Study relaxation or meditation strategies that may help calm you down prior to and during the procedure.
Children’s Health of Orange County recommends several relaxation strategies that parents can use to help their child. “[First,] practice taking slow, deep breaths together. Parents may count to two or three as a child inhales and then three or four as a child exhales. [Secondly,] parents may draw butterfly wings on the palm of their hand with an index finger. Have a child inhale as one wing is drawn and exhale for the second wing. [Finally,] a child can squeeze a hand or stuffed animal in the hand opposite the vaccine site while taking deep breaths.”
Talk to your child’s or your health care provider so that they understand your fear and can help you through the process. I personally have told people administering shots or drawing blood, and they are always very helpful with telling me when to look away and to relax my body and arm. Pediatricians may use ice or an over-the-counter numbing cream prior to administering a shot in young patients, said Cedars-Sinai. This not only helps numb the physical pain but can also psychologically help your young one be more agreeable to the shot.
If these strategies don’t seem to help you or your child, it may be worth consulting a mental health provider. Talk to your doctor about recommending someone you could talk to about your or your child’s phobia.