Trypanophobia is the medical term for a fear of needles. As with other phobias, it involves fear and anxiety. A person with trypanophobia will experience these symptoms in situations that entail needles, such as blood tests, blood donations, and vaccinations.

The term “trypanophobia” derives from the Greek terms “trypano,” meaning piercing, and “phobia,” meaning fear. It is a common phobia that involves an aversion to needles and medical care that may include needles.

A fear of needles may cause people to avoid important procedures, such as blood tests and vaccinations. Treatment options such as exposure therapy can help people overcome their avoidance of needles.

In this article, we discuss the fear of needles, including the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

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A person with a fear of needles will experience anxiety or fear in situations that involve them. Estimates suggest that up to 25% of adults experience a severe aversion to needles, which may cause them to avoid necessary healthcare.

Research indicates that a fear of needles exists on a continuum. On one end of the scale is a mild dislike of needles. In more severe cases, an individual’s aversion to needles may qualify as trypanophobia.

There are three main groups of phobias:

  • specific phobia
  • social phobia
  • agoraphobia

Trypanophobia is a type of specific phobia, which describes an intense or irrational fear of something that poses little to no actual danger. In the case of trypanophobia, the thing is needles, making it a blood-injection-injury type of specific phobia.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), there are several reasons why people might develop trypanophobia. The possible causes include:

  • experiencing a traumatic event that involved needles
  • observing a traumatic event that involved needles
  • experiencing an unexpected panic attack during a medical procedure that involved needles
  • learning too much information about negative events that involved needles

Additionally, some evidence suggests that genetic factors may play a role in the development of phobias. However, experts know little about the biological factors that may result in specific phobias.

Health experts define trypanophobia as an intense, persistent, irrational fear of needles. As such, according to the DSM-5-TR, there are only a few symptoms:

  • fear of needles or procedures that involve needles
  • anxiety about needles or procedures that involve needles
  • avoidance of procedures that involve needles

People may manifest these symptoms in various ways, such as:

  • crying
  • freezing
  • clinging
  • screaming
  • running
  • fainting

According to the DSM-5-TR, an individual will only receive a diagnosis of trypanophobia if they meet several criteria. These include:

  • an obvious fear of or anxiety about needles or needle-involving procedures
  • needles or needle-involving procedures provoke immediate fear or anxiety
  • active avoidance of needles or needle-involving procedures
  • fear or anxiety that is disproportionate to the potential harms of needles or needle-involving procedures
  • fear, anxiety, or avoidance that lasts at least 6 months
  • fear, anxiety, or avoidance that causes significant levels of distress or significant dysfunction in important areas of life

The treatment for phobias typically includes counseling and exposure therapy. A person may also learn techniques to prevent them from fainting.

A 2015 systematic review suggests that exposure therapy can be beneficial for treating high levels of needle fear. This refers to controlled exposure to needles in a safe space to help reduce feelings of anxiety and distress in response to the stimulus. This may involve initially looking at pictures of needles and then moving on to videos of an injection, with the final goal of potentially receiving an injection.

Individuals with significant anxiety may experience a vasovagal reaction to situations with needles. This refers to when a person faints after needle exposure due to their heart rate and blood pressure rapidly increasing before dropping abruptly.

If a person with a fear of needles needs to undergo a procedure involving one, a healthcare professional may offer them a beverage, snack, or some reassurance about the procedure to try to prevent them from fainting. Additionally, they may advise the person to sit in a chair or lie down and wait after the procedure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preparation, support, and pain management can help with milder cases of phobia. This can involve:

  • learning about the procedure and why it involves needles
  • understanding the procedure and knowing where it will take place and what will happen before, during, and after
  • understanding the causes of fear and trying to avoid potential triggers
  • managing pain through numbing creams, vibration, distraction, or relaxation techniques
  • asking a healthcare professional about different strategies that may help

According to research, not receiving treatment is the primary complication of severe needle fear. People with severe needle fear may avoid:

  • receiving vaccines
  • receiving medications
  • undergoing blood tests
  • donating blood

This complication may affect lots of people. For example, 2019 research found that about 16% of adults avoid influenza vaccination because of needle fear.

Trypanophobia is a term that describes a fear of needles. People with this phobia experience intense, irrational fear or anxiety in situations that involve needles.

This fear may cause an individual to avoid healthcare procedures such as vaccinations and blood tests. To help overcome this aversion, a person can try exposure therapy, which involves gradually increasing their exposure to needles in a safe environment.