My first major encounter with fear of needles was not as a doctor, but as a 6 year-old, running with my mother down the block, chasing after my 4 year-old sister who has escaped from the Pediatrician’s office after the nurse tried to give her a shot!
Fear of needles is very common. Studies cited in the Clinical Journal of Pain (October, 2015) identify 63% of children and 14-38% of adults with this issue. Needles fear results in avoidance of vaccinations, deferment of necessary labwork, skipping dentist and doctor visits and, ultimately, avoidance of important healthcare. So, what can be done?
Addressing the Anxiety:
–Let your provider know if you are afraid of needles, so a conversation can be started and action can be taken to alleviate anxiety.
–Take someone with you to the office who may be able to have a calming effect.
–Practice breathing techniques. Often, slow deep breaths during the needlestick helps.
–Sometimes actually watching the needle can help reduce anxiety. This involves you in the process. (This is not helpful for everyone).
–Consider encouraging the person performing the procedure to have conversation with you during the needlestick as a distraction.
–Ask your doctor if premedicating you with an anti-anxiety medication (Valium, etc.) is appropriate.
–Consider seeing a mental health specialist to address the issue (for example, a Cognitive Behavorial Therapist).
-Ask your doctor about Emla cream or other topical anesthetic that you can apply before an injection. Ice can also help.
-Though not foolproof, inquire about receiving the least uncomfortable injection first. For example, in our NYC Travel Medicine clinic, Tdap, Prevnar 13 and, more recently, Shingrix (Shingles) shots appear to be more uncomfortable than some of the other vaccinations we administer.
–Try to ascertain who it the “best” in the office at a particular procedure. You should be able to ask this question without being judged or upsetting staff or doctors. Our staff has learned to avoid taking this question personally!
Finally, if you are not up for a needle on the day of your visit regardless of what planning you made, reschedule! I have several patients and travelers who make another appointment half the time they see me. This should not been seen as a defeat…it is just an admission that you still want to go through with the procedure, just not TODAY.
Bottom line: Needles can be painful. Avoiding them can be detrimental to your health…but there are things that can be done. The key is to be up-front about the fear you may have and address it with your health care professional.
Do you have other suggestions for techniques that have helped you in the past with needles anxiety? Let us know!