A phobia is defined as an extreme, irrational fear of a particular type of object, activity or situation. Specific phobias are a form of anxiety disorder, wherein exposure to the feared stimulus may bring on a panic attack. Needle phobia is, then, a strong fear of needles, pins or pointed objects, and also, an aversion to the medical procedures involving injections or needles. Symptoms may include anxiety, dizziness, nausea, fainting, heart palpitations, sweating, trembling and hyperventilating.
Some dislike of needles is normal – after all, most people wouldn’t call getting injections or having blood drawn a pleasant experience. However, this aversion is dramatically heightened in needle-phobics, to the point where they cannot handle the thought of injections or the actual procedure itself. It is estimated that about 10% of the population may have needle phobia.
Although all phobias can be dangerous, needle phobia is one of the few that can be life threatening. Fear of injections causes needle-phobics to avoid inoculations, blood tests and in some cases, all medical care. Needle phobia in diabetics poses a grave danger, since they need to have injections every day to control blood sugar levels and stay healthy, but anxiously dread the next poke. Because insulin cannot be given in tablet form, diabetics who develop needle phobia need to seek immediate professional help. Severe needle phobia can result in cardiovascular problems, fainting and a drop in blood pressure. Needle-phobes often have other phobias and psychological ailments as well; for example, fear of doctors and dentists.
Is there help for needle-phobia sufferers?
If you or someone you know is living with needle phobia, you know the high toll it can take on a person’s quality of life. The good news is that there are many treatments available to help “unlearn” the needle phobia reaction. However, some are more effective than others, and vary greatly from person to person. Effectiveness also depends a great deal on the needle-phobes specific reason(s) for developing the phobia in the first place. Anyone with a serious needle phobia should thoroughly investigate all of the treatment options to find the one that would be best suited for them. Here is a brief overview of some of the treatment options available for needle phobia:
· Behavioral therapy and/or hypnosis. Aside from the expense, the success of conventional therapeutic treatments for curing phobias is mixed, and can take a long time to see results. Psychologists should not attempt to treat needle phobics in a non-medical environment, as invoking images of needles or needle procedures can bring on a full phobic reaction, including vaso-vagal shock (fainting) and cardiovascular problems.
· Desensitization, which involves progressive exposure to gradually more frightening stimuli. This helps needle phobics become desensitized to the stimulus that triggers the phobic response.
· Anti-anxiety medications. Though prescribed fairly often for needle phobia, the side effects and/or withdrawal symptoms of these drugs can be troublesome. Furthermore, drugs do not “cure” the needle phobia so much as suppress the symptoms through chemical interaction. One technique for overcoming needle phobia is to take a fast-acting anti-anxiety agent such as diazepam (Valium) prior to the needle stick. Eventually the drug may be eliminated as the needle-phobia reaction is unlearned.
· Nitrous oxide is a relatively safe and convenient anti-anxiety agent, especially for milder cases of needle phobia. It can be useful alone or combined with an oral anti-anxiety medication.
· Local anesthetic injections are readily available and economically feasible. However it is illogical to treat needle phobia with an injection, and offers only superficial pain control.
· Ethyl Chloride spray (a freezing agent) can provide superficial pain control.
· Topical anesthetic creams. Anesthetizing the site of the needle stick is painless, portable and a fairly effective procedure commonly used in overcoming needle phobia. Topical anesthesia eliminates the sensation of being stuck by a needle. Topical lidocaine may be useful for this, but only anesthetizes skin to a depth of 2 or 3 mm. Iontophoresis is a process which uses a mild electrical current to drive lidocaine into the skin to a depth of 2 centimeters. An FDA-approved medical device called the NeedleBuster® has been designed for this, and is available to health care professionals and individuals with a doctor’s prescription.
· EMLA® is a unique topical anesthetic cream said to penetrate more deeply than ordinary anesthetic solutions. A mixture of lidocaine and prilocaine, EMLA is readily available in pharmacies, but must be applied at least one hour before the needle procedure. The effectiveness varies from person to person, but typically works well for people whose needle phobia reaction is triggered by the sensation of the needle going in. EMLA does not work as well for people with an acute sensitivity to pain.
· Ice can also be used to numb the injection site. Like EMLA, this works for needle-phobics who react to the sensation of the needle stick, but does little for those with pain sensitivity.
· General anesthesia can eliminate all pain and also all memory of needle procedures but is an extreme (and risky) solution rarely covered by insurance. It can require a hospital stay, and be quite costly.
· The CTRN Needle Phobia Clinic works with patients one-on-one in person or by telephone, focusing on eliminating the needle phobia regardless of how long it takes. Their process can achieve a favorable result in a few hours, and usually requires no more than ten hours. They also have a home study program, which is a much lower investment, and has a lifetime money back guarantee.