Menu

How to Deal With The Fear of Shots

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 27, 2022

Getting shots is one of the most common medical procedures, yet many children and young adults fear them. Trypanophobia is more common in children and adolescents than in adults because they are unfamiliar with the feeling of their skin being pricked by something sharp. Fortunately, by the time most people reach adulthood, they can tolerate needles much more easily. 

However, for some, these fears become more severe as they grow into adolescents and young adults.

Do I Have Trypanophobia?

Trypanophobia refers to the extreme fear of injections or hypodermic needles. Both children and adults can be affected. In children, the fear of shots may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, and clinging. A traumatic incident with needles during childhood can also trigger episodes of anxiety at even the very thought of an injection. Sometimes, it may progress to panic attacks, insomnia, and avoidance to visit the doctor as you get older.

Trypanophobia can be a huge problem for doctors and nurses. It makes it difficult to administer important treatments such as an IV. Doctors use this treatment method to administer medication through a needle inserted into a vein.

What Are the Causes of Trypanophobia?

Although the exact cause of trypanophobia is not known, several factors can lead to this fear. These factors include:

  • Past medical procedures that involved the use of needles may play a role in the development of a needle phobia. The fear of shots is common in children who have a history of using medication through injections.
  • Family history. A lot of adults with trypanophobia have relatives who have experienced it too. However, this condition is developed at some point in life and is not inherited.
  • Vasovagal reaction. The sight of needles or to having your skin pierced by one may trigger a drop in your blood heart rate and blood pressure. This causes you to lose consciousness due to reduced blood flow in your brain.
  • Evolutionary adaptation. Fear of puncturing the skin may be rooted in ancient survival techniques before the introduction of modern antibiotics.
  • Excessive worry and anxiety about having an illness.
  • A fear of restraint. Some people receiving injections are restrained, and this may increase their fear.
  • Sensitivity to pain. Sensitivity causes high anxiety during medical procedures involving a needle.

How Is Trypanophobia Diagnosed?

To diagnose your condition, a doctor will ask you questions about previous experiences with needles used in a medical setting. They may also inquire about your medical, social, and family history regarding needle exposure.

Symptoms of Trypanophobia

Before taking an injection, a person with trypanophobia may experience other symptoms, for instance:

  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Panic attacks

While some people have the option of avoiding needles most of them, others (like nurses) need professional assistance. Consult your doctor if your fear of shots:

Affects your quality of life. It is important to seek help if you experience extreme anxiety or panic attacks when anticipating a doctor's appointment. 

Affects your health. Skipping vaccinations and other treatment methods can lead to serious health complications. 

Worrying about injections should not discourage you from healthy practices like checkups or seeking medical attention when you need it. 

How Is Trypanophobia Treated?

Behavioral experts have developed various techniques to help you cope with fear and anxiety when dealing with needles. These techniques include:

Bringing a trusted friend. Hearing the voice or holding hands with a trusted friend or family member will help you remain calm when you are getting shots.

Taking slow deep breaths. Learn deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to calm yourself down before getting shots. 

Relaxing your arm. Try relaxing the muscle receiving an injection to lessen the pain of the needle stick.

Distracting your mind while waiting for a shot. Distract yourself by reading a book, listening to music, watching a movie, or doing anything else that will divert your attention from needles.

Looking away. Don't watch as the doctor prepares the needle stick for injection. Watching only makes things worse.

Speaking up. Let the doctor know that you struggle with needle phobia and let them know what works best for you so you can feel more comfortable.

Asking for pain relief. Ask the doctor or medical provider if they can use numbing creams or sprays to numb your skin during the injection. 

Calming down. If you have a history of fainting with needle sticks, sit or lie down and elevate your legs a little to ensure there is blood flow in your brain. Lying down also lowers your chance of falling.

Therapy

Working with a psychologist not only allows you to explore your thoughts but can also help you learn new coping skills and techniques to better manage trypanophobia. Some of the unique treatment methods used in psychotherapy include the following:

Exposure therapy. This type of therapy is designed to help with any kind of phobia. First, the patient is exposed to a syringe without a needle, then the syringe with a needle for a few hours, until they overcome anxiety and distress with the idea of injection.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy helps reduce anxiety and distress due to needle exposure. It can be combined with other techniques to teach you new ways to cope. CBT treatment emphasizes approaching your fear instead of avoiding it and learning to calm your mind and body.

Medication. Sedatives and other medications may be prescribed to help decrease anxiety.

What Is the Outlook for Trypanophobia?

The key to overcoming trypanophobia is addressing its causes rather than trying to avoid needles altogether. An important technique in overcoming your phobia is to face your fears one step at a time and effectively follow a treatment plan to manage them. You may never get over your fear of needles, but at the very least, you can learn how to live with it.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?”

Havard Medical School, Havard Health Publishing: “What is Trypanophobia.”

Journal of Advanced Nursing: “The Fear of Needles.”

Mayo Clinic: “Vasovagal Syncope.”

Nemours Children’s Health: “5 Tips for Surviving Shots.”

SAGE Open Nursing: “Fear of Injections and Needle Phobia Among Children and Adolescents.”

Science Direct: “Behavioral Therapy.”

Weill Cornell Medicine: “Addressing Trypanophobia.”

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info