Medicine isn’t always pretty. There’s the whole field of digestive medicine, there’s reconstructive surgery, but there’s also the need for needles. Whether it’s bloodwork or essential vaccinations, some people can’t stomach the idea of needles entering their skin. According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, approximately 25% of adults suffer trypanophobia. Trypanophobia is the fear of needles. As many as 7% of adults avoid procedures involving needles because of this fear.

If anxiety over needles interferes with your ability to seek out medical care, or you know somebody who might be suffering, keep reading to learn what you can do to counteract this surprisingly common fear.

Trypanophobia 101

People who are nervous about needles likely outnumber those who genuinely suffer from a fear of needles. A more severe phobia that should be brought up to your doctor can cause symptoms ranging from feeling faint at the sight of needles to more severe things. You may have increased blood pressure, your heart could race, and you might even develop tremors or nausea as your respiration speeds up. Some rare cases may even progress into full-blown panic attacks and a loss of consciousness, but even in mild cases, it pays to understand what is happening and how to deal with the fear.

Widespread Anxiety

Many childhood fears persist into adulthood, and a fear of needles is pervasive in children. Up to half of all children experience a fear of needles, and those up to a third continue to be afraid – Though the fear is more common in women than in men. Physiologically speaking, women have more nerve receptors than men and are more sensitive to pain and discomfort as a result. As children undergo regular inoculations, the natural response is to want to avoid the pain of injections. This is more severe in some people than others, but the answer may even be genetic.

The anxiety of needles can be made worse by assuming that the fear is irrational. However, the fear is a perfectly normal response. From there, learning how to manage the response when it comes to necessary medical procedures is essential.

How to Handle Trypanophobia

You’re not alone if needles make you nervous – Even if they make you start to panic. It’s such a common fear that there are methods to overcome it. Many people, when they see a needle, worry about the size. Even long needles rarely push in all the way and usually only need to get just under the skin to reach the right veins.

Looking at pictures of them to understand more about how they work, and how much is used, can help. It will make you uncomfortable, but by letting the discomfort mount and dissolve, you build up a tolerance to the idea of needles. You can take this further by watching videos of medical professionals drawing blood or administering injections.

It is essential to remain calm as you expose yourself to your fear. By breathing deeply and exhaling slowly, the blood is saturated with oxygen, and fear hormones have a more challenging time reaching the brain. A good technique is to sit up straight and breathe through your nose – Exhaling through your mouth. Try counting “one-one thousand, two-one thousand” as you inhale, and then through to “five-one thousand” as you exhale.

The Day of Your Procedure

When it finally comes to sit down and face the needle, it is crucial to let the professional know about your anxiety. They will help calm you down and reassure you that everything is okay. Closing your eyes can help, as can squeezing a stress ball or applying over-the-counter lidocaine cream to numb the pain a half hour before your shot or extraction. Most injections and blood drawings are over in less than a minute. Your time spent with the needle will be at a minimum. Working together with your care provider and taking a thoughtful approach will help you to overcome this fear once and for all.