How to cope with a fear of needles

July 2020

Vaccines are vital, and taking up the routine immunisations available to you and your family is the best way to protect against meningitis. However, getting a vaccine is not always something that people look forward to. Some people experience a genuine and extreme fear when it comes to needles, making them less likely to get vital vaccines.
 
Whether this person is you, a friend, or family member, we’re here to guide you on how to manage this phobia of needles, otherwise known as Trypanophobia.
 
According to Anxiety UK, Trypanophobia is thought to affect between 3.5 % to 10% of the population.



Why do people suffer from trypanophobia?
 
Phobias can be split into two categories; simple and complex.
 
Simple phobias often develop in childhood. They can be the result of a negative childhood experience, or even learnt behaviour.
 
Complex phobias are thought to be caused by genetics, brain chemistry and life experiences. These phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias.
 
So what does trypanophobia feel like?
 
Like many other emotions, fear instigates a physiological response; the body releases the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline causes symptoms such as:
  • Feeling faint (light-headed or dizzy)
  • Fainting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Over-breathing
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • A dry mouth
It is important to understand that although trypanophobia may lead to these uncomfortable symptoms, vaccines themselves are proven to be one of the safest public health interventions in history.
 

‘Vaccines are an absolutely essential building block of good health.’ - Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England Medical Director for Primary Care

Vaccination is the only way to protect you and your loved ones from many of the world’s deadliest diseases, including bacterial meningitis. It’s very important that people who are suffering from typanophobia continue to try and get their vaccines.

How can I help myself or others to master trypanophobia?
 
Many of the symptoms listed above are also symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety can be managed in a number of ways. These can include:
 
Distraction

  • Keep busy before the appointment.
  • Plan the appointment for first thing in the morning to avoid spending a whole day worrying about it.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you are worried about your appointment, take a friend or family member whom you can trust, to the appointment with you. Plan to discuss something with them whilst you are having your vaccination.
Applied tension
 
This is a technique that will help to increase blood pressure back to normal and reduces the chances of fainting.
  1. Tense the muscles in your arms, upper body and legs and hold this tension for 10-15 seconds
  2. Relax and go back to your normal sitting position
  3. After 20-30 seconds, tense your muscles for 10-15 seconds again
  4. Repeat this sequence three times every day for around a week
You can find out more about this exercise by visiting the NHS’ guide to ‘Overcoming your needle phobia (fear of needles)’.
 
Talk
 
It is important to talk about feelings and to understand that no-one should be embarrassed to talk about a fear of needles. If you are suffering from trypanophobia, make sure you:
  • Chat to somebody you trust, whether that be a friend or relative.
  • Talk to the person who is coordinating your care or injection and explain your concerns. They will help to make you comfortable.
  • Contact us if you would like our support. Please get in touch via phone, email or live-chat for confidential advice. Will be there to listen and support you.
Call our free helpline on 080 8800 3344, or email helpline@meningitis.org.
 
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Meningococcal Group W (MenW) is a particularly virulent strain of bacterial meningitis which is on the rise in the UK and Ireland.


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Issy Pritchard
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