Point of fear
IMAGINE how daunting the prospect of rolling up your sleeve for a COVID-19 jab would be if just hearing the word “needle” was enough to make you faint.
Up to 10 per cent of the population has a moderate to severe phobia of needles (although many more have a mild fear), with the thought or photo of a syringe — or even reading this story — also capable of inducing intense distress and high anxiety symptoms such as chest pain and panic attacks.
Fitting the broader blood/injection/injury phobias category, people who experience physical reactions when they see or interact with a needle won’t just avoid getting shots like a two-dose course of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines.
They also might not have blood tests to confirm suspected medical conditions or receive lifesaving treatments such as chemotherapy either, according to Centre for Clinical Interventions psychologist Louise Pannekoek.
“It is a really severe and significant disorder that is very impairing for some people,” she said.
“They often experience a fight or flight response and we’ve heard stories about people being in the doctor’s office, excusing themselves to go to the bathroom, then running out the door and never going back.”
Unlike other phobias, fainting is also common, with blood pressure rising as part of the typical fear response but suddenly dropping and causing them to pass out when a needle is administered.
“They are often told that they are overreacting and need to get on with it, but many do faint and that’s not something you can do on purpose; it’s a physiological response,” Ms Pannekoek said.
“Others fear that the injection will be really painful or go wrong, have had a bad experience or have a general disgust response similar to how some people are quite sensitive to the sight of blood.”
Ms Pannekoek said needle phobia was common in children who often “grow out of it” but can develop later in adolescence and adulthood.
It is also experienced by a wide range of people including those wanting to work in the medical profession.
For anyone needing an immediate injection or blood draw, medical professionals will often recommend lying down to avoid fainting and/or injury. Alternatively, practicing applied muscle tension (tensing and holding the body’s large muscles) to temporarily increase blood pressure can help people control the fainting response during the procedure.
In the long term, the Centre for Clinical Interventions teaches anxiety-coping techniques and takes individuals through a “graded exposure” process to help them overcome their fears.
The centre has health information and free resources on its website.