Trypanophobia

Phobia is a condition where an individual faces debilitating anxiety or fear of a situation or object. Trypanophobia is the fear of hypodermic needles or medical procedures involving injections. In medical literature, it is called needle phobia or aichmophobia, though the latter applies to a generalized fear of sharp objects.

It was officially recognized in 1994, in the 4th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – IV).

Needle phobia generally stems from the individual; however, research has shown that 50% of afflicted individuals have an inherited condition called the vasovagal reflex action. In human physiology, vasovagal reflex action kicks in during extreme stress, prolonged standing, severe pain, seeing blood, gore or other psychological triggers.

In the case of individuals who have trypanophobia, the sight, the thought or feeling of a hypodermic needle causes a vasovagal reflex action.

This response causes the blood vessels to dilate, resulting in a sudden drop in blood pressure. This causes the individual to lose consciousness (also called vasovagal syncope). In some cases, this reaction has been documented to cause the death of affected individuals.

Researchers also linked this phobia with some form of genetic predisposition. For instance, a research paper hypothesized that ancient humans who have successfully avoided stab wounds or other similar incidents had a higher chance of survival. So, in essence, trypanophobia is inherited, to a degree.

There are many treatments which are effective for needle phobia. However, there is no guidance to suggest which treatment to select for a specific case. Freezing sprays and topical anaesthetic creams provide superficial pain relief. Nitrous oxide or laughing gas sedates the patient and relieves anxiety. On the other end of the spectrum is behavioural therapy. It has been deemed effective, though it varies on the patient and the severity of the phobia.

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