Addressing Trypanophobia: Managing Needle Fears and Phobias

No one loves shots. They pinch. They sting. They leave arms sore. Some people—children as well as adults—fear shots so intensely that just anticipating them causes overwhelming anxiety. Others simply avoid them. But avoiding injections increases your or your child’s risk for potentially serious illnesses like measles, tetanus, and Covid-19. As the pandemic continues to rage, it is especially critical to learn how to manage your or your child’s fear of injections.

Differences Between Needle Fears and Phobias

First and foremost, it is important to distinguish needle fear from needle phobia, says Maryellen Benito, DO, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics. “Needle fear is when you see the needle before you get your shot and start getting scared because you don’t want to feel pain from it,” Dr. Benito says. “Don’t look at the needle,” she advises.

“Needle phobia interferes with your quality of life,” Dr. Benito adds. “It is being scared to the point when you can’t function,” she adds.

Needle fears and phobias are so common, that an estimated 2 in 3 children and 1 in 4 adults suffer from them. Left unaddressed, however, they can undermine your or your child’s health.

Managing Trypanophobia

It is important, therefore, for anyone with a fear and phobia to receive support and understanding. If you’re the one who’s afraid, then ask a close relative or friend who understands this fear and can provide comfort to accompany you to your injection appointment. If your child is the fearful one, then it is up to you to remain calm and reassuring during the procedure. “Hug or hold your child’s hand and comfort, or distract, them when the shot is given,” Dr. Benito suggests.

Most importantly, know that the fear of needles is not irrational and should not elicit shame, even when the danger is not real.

Here are some other ways to manage this fear:

  • Learn all you can about the shot you or your child is about to receive. Understand why the procedure involves needles and is important for your health.
  • Know where the procedure will take place, who will perform it, and what will happen before, during, and afterward.
  • Substitute words like ‘shot’ with ‘poke’ for shot or injection.
  • Be realistic. Expect—or explain to your child--that the vaccination might feel like a briefly painful pinch or poke.
  • Practice what will happen by role playing.
  • Avoid images—either in print or online--of needles unless a trained mental health provider uses them as part of therapy.
  • Prevent your brain from focusing on the pain by requesting a numbing cream or spray that can minimize the pinch. Or use a device that distracts you from the pain by producing a buzzing feeling or cooling the skin.
  • Relax. Practice breath control or self-hypnosis to calm your mind.
  • Consult a mental health provider if your or your child’s fear or phobia is severe.