Dread getting injections or blood tests? You’re not alone. A 2012 survey found that around one in four adults experiences “needle phobia,” and some research points to rates as high as one in three. This aversion can turn deadly when it makes people avoid immunizations and dental or medical care.
For many needle-phobic patients, injections cause a vasovagal reaction (also called vasovagal syncope)—their blood pressure plummets, their pulse weakens, they feel light-headed, and they even might faint.
What to do: Try the following options until you find the solution or combination of solutions that work for you.
Numb your arm. Hold an ice pack against the skin that’s about to receive an injection for two minutes before the shot.
Confuse your nerves and brain with vibration. Buzzy, a small battery-powered vibrating device, works when held against the arm receiving the injection or giving blood. The vibrations can block nerves from sending pain signals…and prevent the brain from focusing as intensely on any pain signals that are received. The device works best chilled to also get the benefits of icing, and it may be worth the investment for those who need frequent blood tests or injections. ($44.95 for consumer versions, BuzzyHelps.com.)
Pinch yourself. I find that for some patients, pinching themselves immediately prior to the injection on a different part of the body helps. The brain can’t focus on two strong stimuli at once, so there’s a good chance that it will ignore the injection.
Desensitize yourself to needles. Desensitization is a well-established technique for phobias. How it works: Slowly increasing your exposure to needles in a relaxed setting can reduce your reaction to them. Start by just thinking about needles/syringes for a few minutes as you sit in a peaceful spot breathing deeply. Repeat this several times a day until you can do it with no light-headedness or fear, then move on to looking at pictures of needles…followed by looking at pictures of people receiving injections…then videos of people getting injections.
Distract yourself. Any mental distraction can reduce your reaction to an injection—an unrelated conversation with a friend… a video on your phone…looking in a direction other than the needle. Intriguing: Thinking about something that makes you angry is a good distraction when you’re about to get a shot. Anger can trigger the fight-or-flight response, which boosts heart rate and blood pressure—potentially overcoming the vasovagal reflex’s falling blood pressure and heart rate.
Take it lying down. If shots make you light-headed, get injections while lying down with your legs elevated and shirt collar and belt loosened. This position can offset the falling blood pressure of the vasovagal reflex.
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