Don’t let fear get in the way of important medical care. Our tips can give you or someone close to you the support they need to overcome a fear of needles

What is trypanophobia?

If you or someone close to you has a fear of medical procedures that involve needles, it could be trypanophobia. Closely related to a phobia of needles, pins or sharp objects, trypanophobia relates to a fear of needles specifically in a medical setting. This can make daily life challenging for those affected and even goes as extreme as stopping people from getting the life-saving care they need, including vaccinations.

Although this phobia can make you feel isolated, there are people and exercises out there that can help you or someone close to you overcome this fear, which we’ll delve into later.

How common is trypanophobia?

You may be surprised to know that trypanophobia is very common, affecting at least one in 10 people. Although it may be common, the severity of the fear shouldn’t be underestimated, and neither should anyone with trypanophobia feel ashamed to have it.

Without the necessary actions to help you manage your phobia, trypanophobia can interfere with your day-to-day life and in some cases can start to get in the way of important doctors’ appointments. Luckily, there are ways to manage the fear even if at times this might feel impossible. Later in this article, we’ll be sharing some top tips to help you or someone close to you overcome their fear of needles.

What are the signs & symptoms of trypanophobia?

A phobia, like trypanophobia, can cause panic attacks that occur suddenly without warning. These panic attacks can occur when the fear is triggered. For someone with trypanophobia, a trigger can be seeing blood. Some of the physical symptoms of a panic attack include:

• Headaches and dizziness

• Sweating, trembling and hot flushes or chills

• A shortness of breath or difficulty breathing which can cause a choking sensation

• Rapid heartbeat

• Nausea

• Feeling faint

• A sudden need to go to the toilet

• Dry mouth

• Pain or tight feeling in the chest

• Ringing in your ears

• Numbness

• Confusion or disorientation

With trypanophobia, many people start to feel faint or in some cases can actually faint (passing out for a short time) when they encounter a needle or even if they think about an injection. When something triggers a fear it causes both heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Shortly after it rapidly drops which can cause fainting.

If you have trypanophobia or someone close to you does and they start to feel faint, there are a few helpful tips you can follow to aid prevention:

• Try to remain calm

• Lie down and raise your legs in the air. If this isn’t possible at the time, you can sit with your head lowered between your knees

• Take some deep breaths. Our deep breathing exercises can help you feel calm and relaxed

• Drink some water

• Have something to eat

What causes trypanophobia?

There isn’t one root cause associated with trypanophobia. However, it’s thought that people who are afraid of specific aspects of needles or injections can be more likely to experience this phobia. This may include people who:

• Have negative or traumatic memories of needles from earlier in life

• Have a hypersensitivity to pain, known as hyperalgesia

• Have vasovagal syncope (common faints) from either looking at a needle, touching a needle or both

• Have a fear of being restrained, (known as merinthophobia). This can trigger someone’s trypanophobia if they have to receive an injection

How to get over a fear of needles?

Hoping to overcome your fear of needles? You’re not alone. We’ve compiled a list of top tips to help you through the process. Try not to feel disheartened if some of these tips don’t work for you. It may take some trial and error before you find the solution you’re looking for.

Tip 1: Be open to others about your worries

We understand that opening up about your phobia to others can be difficult. However, by telling the person who’s coordinating your care, giving you an injection or doing a blood test, it means they have more awareness of your worries and can work with you to help you overcome them.

For example, they can answer any questions you may have or talk to you throughout your procedure to help distract you.

Tip 2: Learn an applied tension technique

This tip applies to those who’s fear is linked to feeling faint or actually fainting. Applied tension technique helps you increase your blood pressure to a normal level again, preventing the risk of fainting. Repeat the following sequence three times every day for about a week:

• Make sure you’re sitting somewhere comfortably

• Tense the muscles in your arms, upper body and legs and hold for 10 to 15 seconds (or until your start to feel warm in the face)

• After 10 to 15 seconds, release the tension and return to your comfortable sitting position for around 20 to 30 seconds before repeating the tension procedure again

• Repeat the sequence five times in total

If you have any other health problem, take caution when practising this exercise. If you also get a headache after completing the exercise, avoid tensing the muscles in your face and head.

Tip 3: Familiarise yourself with breathing exercises

Distract your thoughts by using relaxation techniques, which you can find in our four must-try relaxation exercises guide. It’s recommended that you try and practice these exercises three times every week before you try to face your fear. Breathing exercises can help you in situations where your chest feels tight or your heart races.

Tip 4: Consider previous coping mechanisms that’ve helped you cope with needles in the past

For example, is there a friend or family member who you can rely on? Someone who’s great at distracting you? Or maybe you find holding onto a stress ball helps? Factors like these could prove useful in helping you manage trypanophobia. It’s worth a try.

Tip 5: Take one small step at a time

After putting the above exercises into practise, the next step is to attempt facing your fear of needles. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Take each step at your own pace. You can start by creating a ‘fear ladder’. This is a list which prioritises all the situations involving needles that you fear. For example, thinking about a procedure that involves needles, like a blood test or seeing a picture of needles.

Rank each situation in order of difficulty, 10 being the most difficult and zero being the easiest. Place the easiest situations at the bottom of the ladder and the most difficult towards the top. Now it’s time to climb your fear ladder. Think about or act out each step. Remember, there is no set time that you need to complete this task. Take your time and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Tips to help someone with trypanophobia?

It can be hard seeing someone you care for experience a phobia like trypanophobia. At times, you may feel like there’s nothing you can do but you’re not alone. Below is a list of tips that you can follow to help someone with trypanophobia. It’s also important to look after yourself during this time to prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

Tip 1: Try to understand the phobia & take it seriously

It can be hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has trypanophobia. However, taking time to learn about personal experiences by reading online blogs and articles can help widen your understanding. This can help you empathise with how they’re feeling.

Tip 2: Find out what helps them

This may take some trial and error but it’s worth investing time in finding out what helps them. For example, you may notice that breathing exercises are a useful aid or that attending appointments with them that involve needles can help put them at ease.

Tip 3: Don’t put pressure on them

Overcoming a phobia takes time, so try to refrain from putting pressure on the individual. Be patient with them and try not to force them into situations that you know will make them feel uncomfortable. Always work at a pace that suits them.

Tip 4: Encourage them to find support & seek treatment

If you’re concerned that the phobia is impacting your loved one’s day-to-day life, encourage them to seek help. You can suggest booking a doctor’s appointment and even offer to come along to show your support. Understandably, attending the doctor’s surgery can feel daunting for someone with trypanophobia. Alternatively, you can look into other options for support, including online support groups.

When should you talk to your GP about trypanophobia?

If self-help techniques, like breathing exercises aren’t successful in helping you or someone close to you overcome a fear of needles, you may wish to turn to your GP for help. Your GP can offer professional help and advice, as well as discuss possible treatment options.

A healthcare professional is likely to recommend referral for talking therapies, such as counselling. Counselling, in particular cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is known for being very effective in helping to treat phobias like trypanophobia. This is a type of counselling that can help you manage your phobia by changing the way you think and behave. Read on for everything you need to know about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Alternatively, you can get the support and advice you need from the comfort of your own home by visiting our Boots Health Hub for mental health. You can find a range of services, including online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy)*. This is a service that provides on-demand therapy in just one click, putting you in contact with a therapist, coach or mentor via in-app messaging, voice messages, video messages and one-to-one 30-minute video sessions.

Trypanophobia can be a challenging phobia to live with. However, it doesn’t need to define you or the individual it affects. With the right help and support, you or someone close to you can learn to overcome their fear one step at a time.

*Eligibility criteria apply Subject to availability. Charges apply.