Diabetes and Needle Phobia: Symptoms, Coping, New Treatments (2023)
Time to read 11 min
Time to read 11 min
Needle phobia is one of the most common fears in the world. Even the bravest of people can faint just by looking at a syringe.
So we'll go over everything you need about needle phobia and a few handy tips for coping with your fear of needles!
Most people think needle phobia is a general term for extreme fear of needles. However, contrary to popular belief, needle phobia isn't just a fear of needles.
There are several types of needle phobia, such as the fear of injections (also called injection phobia or trypanophobia), the fear of pins and needles (belonephobia), and the fear of sharp objects (aichmophobia).
People who suffer from needle fear can have difficulty taking medications, receiving medical care, or undergoing medical procedures. Seeing a needle can kick in their fear response, making them nauseous or vomiting.
According to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), 2 in 3 children and 1 in 4 adults suffer from needle phobia. Since approximately 1 in every 10 people has diabetes, the chances of a diabetic being afraid of needles are extremely high.
Some people don't blink twice when they suffer a sports injury, but looking at a needle can make them anxious.
This is because needle phobia is a state of intense fear in your mind. Your brain tells you you're in an exaggerated level of danger, and your body starts showing symptoms in response. There are several theories about what causes needle phobia and why this happens.
Here are a few popular theories:
Unpleasant Experience: The most common cause, especially in children, is an unpleasant past experience involving a needle. For example, adults who had an unwelcome visit to the dentist or a hospital as a child are likely to have needle or injection phobia when they grow up.
Adult-Modeled Fear: Some children fear needles because of frightening stories told by adults or after seeing adults afraid of needles or in pain during injection.
Evolution: Some scientists believe the fear of needles is an evolutionary trait, where being afraid of sharp objects helped keep humans alive in the past. Also, before modern medical care and antibiotics, even small puncture wounds could be fatal if left untreated.
Hyperalgesia: Some people have a condition called hyperalgesia, which is heightened sensitivity to pain, making them more afraid of getting pricked by sharp objects and needles than usual
Every person experiences different symptoms of needle phobia. However, one of the main symptoms most people have in common is anxiety.
Like most anxiety disorders, needle phobia can lead to other physical symptoms, such as the following:
A sensation of dizziness and lightheadedness
Shaking or quivering
Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
Nausea or queasiness
Possible loss of consciousness or fainting
Managing needle phobia is important for both your physical and mental health.
Studies show that diabetics with needle phobia have poor adherence to their medication schedules, don't monitor their blood sugar levels, and avoid regular checkups with their physicians.
This hurts your health and puts you at a greater risk of developing diabetes-related complications and other health problems.
Here are a few tips that can help you cope with your needle phobia and reduce your anxiety:
One of the first things your healthcare providers might recommend is exposure therapy. It involves gradual and controlled exposure to whatever you're afraid of, such as needles or injections.
You might start by looking at pictures of a needle and progress to holding a needle in your hand for some time.
After that, your healthcare providers might give you a mock injection and a real injection once you're comfortable or less anxious. The idea is to take it gradually so that you fight tiny bits of anxiety as they rise to the surface.
Exposure therapy should be done with a licensed mental health specialist or therapist to avoid injury or potential harm. Several randomized controlled trials have shown that, with time, exposure therapy can significantly reduce high levels of needle fear.
It's important to talk to your healthcare team about your phobia and fear of needles. They can help you overcome your fear or find other insulin or blood sugar monitoring measures without needles.
For example, some glucometers use a lancet instead of a syringe or needle to measure your blood sugar level.
Also, your doctor might put you on insulin pump therapy or prescribe a needle-free injection device instead of traditional injection methods.
You can also try CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), which involves talking to a licensed therapist to help you gradually overcome your fear.
You can try several relaxation techniques before your injection to help you fight through and overcome your injection fear.
Here's an excellent example many people with diabetes use before insulin injections or a blood test.
First, find a comfortable chair to sit in and close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths, filling your lungs completely. Hold your breath for 3 seconds before exhaling slowly for a count of 5 seconds.
Repeat this breathing sequence two more times.
After you've completed the sequence, open your eyes and pay attention to any subtle differences in how you feel in both your body and mind.
With practice, you will learn to identify feelings of relaxation and use them to overcome your fear of needles.
You can apply numbing creams before taking injectable medications to make it less painful. You can find over-the-counter topical creams or ask your doctor for prescription medications.
Regardless of which type of numbing cream you choose, apply it to the injection site and give it time to work its magic before taking your medication.
If you're always worried about how the injection will hurt you, there are several ways to make it less painful by numbing the area beforehand.
For example, you could put a frozen spoon or an icepack wrapped in a towel on the injection site a few minutes before taking your medication. The cold decreases the blood flow to that area and numbs the pain a little.
Another method that works incredibly well with children is distraction. Focus on something other than the injection or the needle, such as a video, music, a toy, or conversation.
This can help take your mind off the needle and reduce your anxiety.
Most people are afraid of the unknown. Understanding everything about a medical procedure beforehand can significantly reduce your fear of needles.
Ask your primary care doctor about when a procedure will occur, how it's typically done, and what you can expect before, during, and after. In most cases, the fear is just in your head, and the procedure is much simpler than you think.
It's also important to be realistic. Instead of telling yourself you won't feel a thing during an injection, which isn't true, tell yourself it'll feel like a light poke, but just for a second.
This helps your brain understand what's coming, so it won't exaggerate the injection, and you won't dread it every time.
One of the best things you can do if you suffer from needle phobia is to build a support system. When going through a medical procedure requiring an injection, involve people who care about you, such as family members, friends, and even caregivers.
Having someone you trust who stays calm and understands your fear of needles can help significantly.
With time, you can learn to cope with your phobia and gradually build the courage to take injections independently.
Your breathing tempo or rate has a direct effect on your anxiety levels. The more you control and regulate your breathing, the better you can get at calming your nerves before an injection.
If you're taking your daily insulin injections or giving yourself medication using a syringe, you can try a few breathing techniques to help you power through.
For example, you can take a deep breath right before self-injection and then exhale forcefully during the injection. The idea is that exhaling forcefully activates your parasympathetic system, which helps you relax and calm down.
It's like when someone breathes a sigh of relief, releasing all the built-up tension and anxiety.
Sometimes identifying the source of your fear can help you manage or cope with it. Yes, you're afraid of injections or needles, but which part of the injection process triggers your anxiety?
Once you identify that, you can work with your healthcare providers to minimize and avoid these triggers.
For example, some people are only afraid of looking at needles and don't mind the prick at all. If that's the case with you, your doctor might hide the needle or ask you to look away during a procedure.
Alternatively, you might be most afraid of the injection itself because you think the pain is unbearable. That's when your doctor might suggest using numbing creams and sprays to lessen the pain.
One trick many people with diabetes have learned is to apply pressure to the injection site before taking the injection. By pressing down with your thumb on the area for about 20 seconds, you can slightly reduce the blood flow and nerve sensation in that area. Hence, less pain.
This is especially useful for diabetics who monitor their blood sugar levels daily with a home glucometer.
Needle-less injection devices have been around for a long time, but they've mostly been used for mass vaccine injections. However, they've recently gained popularity among children and adult patients with needle fear.
These devices allow you to take your insulin injections or hormone medication subcutaneously without using a needle or syringe to penetrate the skin.
It's virtually painless, has excellent drug dispersion and absorption, and is much less nerve-wracking for people with needle phobia.
As a diabetic, you might need to take insulin injections several times throughout the day to control your blood sugar levels. This means you'll be exposed to needles repeatedly, which isn't great if you have needle phobia.
An insulin pump is a great alternative that can help you avoid daily self-injections. It's a small, wearable device that automatically delivers insulin doses without a needle or syringe.
However, insulin pumps deliver the insulin through a small cannula tube. You'll need to change your cannula every few days to avoid infections, and this process requires a needlestick.
In other words, you won't avoid needles with an insulin pump. Still, you'll only deal with one every few days instead of multiple times per day, like regular insulin injections.
If you're considering an insulin pump, talk to your doctor and your diabetes educator about the pros and cons of using one. These devices require monitoring and management, but many patients prefer them to self-injection.
Technology has come a long way. Some needles aren't as thick or long as they used to be and still get the job done.
Ask your doctor to prescribe ultra-fine needles, the shortest and thinnest needles on the market. These tiny needles can take some of the edge off your fear and make the injection process much less intimidating or painful.
The higher the gauge number of a lancet, the smaller the needle is. Using high-gauge lancets can help you overcome your fear of needles.
Also, when using a lancet pen to measure your blood glucose, set the depth of the pen to a lower setting so you don't feel anything more than a light prick.
Buzzy is a tiny device invented by physicians to help children and adults with needle phobia. It's a small bee-shaped unit that vibrates and is attached to a reusable ice pack.
The ice pack is placed on the skin near the injection site and held in place while the device vibrates.
The idea behind Buzzy is the cold temperature and vibrations reduce the pain signals sent to the brain. This makes the injection much more comfortable and less painful.
Buzzy is commonly used in medical settings such as pediatrician clinics, hospitals, and labs, but you can also use it at home. Children especially love the bee-shaped design, which often helps them overcome their fear of needles.
If you hate or dislike needles, that doesn't mean you have needle phobia. It's normal to not look forward to your insulin injection.
However, it's likely needle phobia if it gets in the way of your glycemic control, where you're too afraid to monitor your blood glucose or take your insulin.
Taking medication to cope with your needle phobia is rarely recommended. Switching to needle-free injection devices or trying coping techniques is often enough to manage your fear.
However, in cases of severe phobia, your healthcare provider might prescribe antianxiety medications such as Cipralex or short-term tranquillizers such as Valium to help with your anxiety.
Being afraid of needles is nothing to be ashamed of, especially now that you know how to cope with your fears. With all the new treatment options and the endless support, healthcare specialists provide, it's easier than ever.
It might take a shot of courage, but try the coping mechanisms in this article, and you'll overcome your needle phobia before you know it!