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Why are so many people scared of needles?

March 22, 2016

Aichmophobia, the fear of needles, is thought to affect around one in four people in the UK, while trypanophobia, the fear of injections, is also common.

But what exactly is it about needles that scares people so much?

Piercing the skin with something sharp is never going to be a pleasant experience, but some people become physically sick and overwhelmingly anxious at the very thought of an injection.

Here, we take a look at the extent of needle phobias, as well as how doctors and other medical professionals can reassure patients that there is nothing for them to be scared of.

How many people are scared of needles?

Several studies have been conducted in recent years to find out the true extent of needle phobias, with some claiming that as much as one-quarter of the population is affected.

Both men and women tend to be similarly affected, and a fear of needles can be apparent at any age, demonstrating that aichmophobia is a widespread problem.

A fear of needles often manifests itself in sweating, nausea, fainting, dizziness and even heart palpitations.

For individuals who have to administer their own medication, such as diabetics, aichmophobia can cause significant challenges. In fact, statistics from Diabetes.co.uk suggest that while seven per cent of Britain's population has diabetes, ten per cent is scared of needles.

Furthermore, needle phobias can also cause problems for doctors and nurses, making it more difficult for them to administer potentially life-saving treatments, hindering the level of care they are able to provide.

Where do these fears stem from?

Needle phobias can have their roots in childhood, stemming from often inaccurate memories of painful injections, and they can go hand-in-hand with a fear of the dentist, where these needles may have been administered.

Childhood fears can also be exacerbated by relatives or others close to the child who have phobias of their own, which rub off on the vulnerable young person and stay with them for years to come, creating a continuous circle of fear.

However, a fear of needles may also be attributable to evolution. For thousands of years, until fairly recently, having the skin pricked by a sharp object was highly likely to result in injury, infection or even death, meaning individuals who instinctively avoided such objects would be less likely to die.

Today, a tetanus jab - ironically, something else that involves a needle - or a brief course of antibiotics can prevent such problems from occurring, and people's immune systems are generally better able to fight off infections.

Within the past 40 years or so, people have also been wary of injections due to the fear of the spread of HIV and AIDS. At the height of the mania surrounding AIDS in the 1980s, it became evident that the condition could be passed on via infected needles, resulting in more people growing wary of receiving immunisations.

If a fear of needles is linked to evolution, does this mean the phobia will continue in the next generation, after their parents grew up in the middle of the AIDS epidemic?

Reassuring needle phobia sufferers

With all of this in mind, how can doctors and other medical professionals reassure patients who are suffering from a severe fear of needles?

Aside from telling patients to breathe deeply, talking to them to keep them distracted and making sure they are as comfortable as possible when having an injection, doctors may also wish to explain their sharps safety procedures to worried individuals to put their minds at risk.

Clearly demonstrating to patients that the needle they are using is fresh out of the packet, they are putting clean gloves on and using fresh cotton wool to swab the skin may help to ease their concerns.

As part of this reassurance process, doctors might also like to show the patient how they safely dispose of sharps following an injection, providing them with peace of mind that no one else will be at risk due to the presence of the needle.

Meanwhile, using specialist needle caps and showing them to the patient is another way to reassure them that the injection is being carried out in the safest possible manner.

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