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Living with Trypanophobia

  • Category: Diseases & Conditions
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Emily Guidroz, Director of Marketing
Living with Trypanophobia

When it comes to people’s biggest fears, heights, public speaking and snakes all top the list of most common issues. While I don’t suffer from any of those common phobias, I have a different fear keeping me up at night: I’m terrified of needles. You may think you can relate. Most people don’t like getting shots or giving blood. But, about 10 percent of people suffer from trypanophobia – a severe needle-phobia that can lead to panic attacks or delayed medical care.

Like most phobias, the fear of needles is complex and not entirely rational. And it’s not solely about the pain. Instead, it’s the thought of something going into your body, the sight of it, and the smell of the alcohol swab to clean the area. My first memories of the problem are from childhood. In the days leading up to my appointments with my pediatrician, I’d grow more and more anxious to the point where I was consumed by worry, affecting my sleep and overall mental state. Some kids grow out of the fear as the get older, but that’s not always the case. When I was a teen, I began fainting during shots. When I would see the needle or, more often, after I got a shot, I would pass out. Seeing the needle triggered my vasovagal reflex, widening my blood vessels and slowing my heart rates until my blood pressure was so low I’d faint.

Once I grew out of the shot phase of childhood, I was able to avoid doctors’ offices and needles for years until I decided to have children. That’s when I knew I had to learn how to manage this better. Gone were the days of embarrassing hyperventilation episodes. I was an adult and needed to figure this out. Over time, I started to learn what worked for me and how I could get through it. Here are a few of my tips:

  • I’d rather not know I need a shot ahead of time. I do better when I can’t dread the appointment for days in advance.
  • Never look at the needle. Don’t even look at it on the counter. You know it’s there – just avoid it.
  • Tell the staff. Make sure to tell the staff that you have an issue with needles and may faint. They will generally accommodate you and if they don’t, choose another doctor.
  • Take a friend or family member with you. Sometimes I go alone, but sometimes I’ll take someone along with me. Just depends how I am feeling.
  • Lay down. If I need to give blood I always ask if there is a place I can lay down.
  • Breathe and look the opposite way. Take deep breaths, look in the opposite direction, and don’t stop until it’s over.
  • Cry if you want. If you are upset don’t hold it in. That only makes it more likely you’ll trigger your vasovagal reflex and faint.
  • After it’s done, sit for a few minutes and make sure you are ok. You know your body and will know if you are good to go.

Learning how to manage your response is key. Find what works for you and know that you aren’t the only one. It is a real fear that impacts people each and every day. Instead of choosing to delay getting care take the time to learn how to manage your fear.