Overcoming Fear of Injections

The list of health issues treated with injectable medications is long and includes many common conditions, including diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. Sports injuries are often treated with cortisone injections, and of course, anesthesia, pain relievers, and vaccines to protect against everything from hepatitis to the flu are all administered via a needle.

If You Don't Like Injections, You’re Not Alone

Given the vast number of conditions treated and prevented by injection, it's likely that you will have to face more than a few needles during your lifetime. If you feel squeamish, dizzy, or faint at the mere thought of a jab, you’re not alone: It's estimated that approximately 10 percent of Americans have a needle phobia and though it is more common in children, it affects adults as well.

There are even names for your fears: trypanophobia, which means fear of needles and injections, and aichmophobia, which translates to fear of sharp objects in general. But giving in to your fears and anxiety might cause you to avoid necessary medical tests, immunizations, and treatments that could prevent complications and even save your life.

"It’s such a common fear and nothing to be ashamed of," says Amber Champion, MD, Director of Diabetes at the Center for Endocrinology at Mercy in Baltimore "Especially since it’s not exactly a natural process to have an injection or have blood taken."

Luckily, you can overcome your concerns and become more comfortable with injections. But as Champion points out, health care workers can’t help you if they don’t know you have a problem.

What You Can Do

Because fear of needles is such a common problem, health professionals and researchers continually strive for solutions. And progress has been made: Needles have gotten ever thinner, and therefore less painful—today, an injection should feel more like a prick than a stab. And disposable needles are now the norm, so you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination.

But if improvements in injectable technology don't impress you, here are a few tips to help you conquer your fears:

  • Be prepared. Stay hydrated and eat a well-balanced meal to help you maintain normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which helps prevent fainting.
  • Talk to the person administering your medication or vaccine. Rather than suffer from fear of the unknown, make sure you understand exactly why you are being injected. However, let the person know if you don’t want to hear the details of the procedure.
  • Consider medication. In some cases, extremely fearful patients are prescribed a low-dose anti-anxiety medication or a topical anesthetic in the form of a swab, spray, or cream.
  • Have a routine. "Conditioning is one of the best ways to manage fear of needles,” says G. Ryan Shelton, MD, Internal Medicine Physician at Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte, NC. “Going to the same doctor every year for your flu shot and any other injections you need, helps you build trust and hopefully the procedure gets easier over time."

Doctors, nurses, and technicians who inject medication or draw blood through a needle use a variety of simple tools and techniques to momentarily distract and calm their patients. You can try these yourself:

  • Look away. Ask your injector not to warn you when the needle is coming, and keep your head turned the other way when you are about to get an injection.
  • Visualize. Picture yourself a peaceful location, such as a beach or meadow, or anyplace where you know you feel peaceful and comfortable.
  • Soothe yourself with sounds. Listen to peaceful classical music or other calming sounds while you are getting an injection.
  • Focus. Fix your gaze on an immoveable object or even a spot in the ceiling, and stay focused on it.
  • Squeeze. Squeeze your fists, a ball, or a hand exerciser, opening and closing your hand before and during an injection. Follow your provider’s instructions on how hard or gently you should squeeze, as your motions may affect the injection.
  • Meditate and breathe deeply. Meditation that includes taking deep breathes through your nose and releasing them through your mouth can help you relax both mind and body.

"A technique like low, deep breathing can really keep you calm," Shelton confirms. "It works because it helps keep your adrenergic nervous system—your fight or flight reaction—from becoming overactive, which would otherwise increase your anxiety and fear."

Amber Champion, MD, and G. Ryan Shelton, MD, reviewed this article.

Sources

Amber Champion, MD. Email to author April 6, 2016.

Ryan Shelton, MD. Email to author April 5, 2016.

"Injectable Drug List." PriorityHealth. Last modified March 15, 2016.

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Cyna AM, Andrew MI, Tan SGM, Smith AF. (Ed.) Handbook of Communication in Anesthesia and Critical Care: A Practical Guide to Exploring the Art. Chapter 14: Needle Phobia. 2010 Oxford University Press.