Imagine: After several days of apprehension and many sleepless nights, the appointment you’ve dreaded has arrived. You follow your orthopedist’s friendly office assistant into a brightly-lit examination room smelling of disinfectant, and reluctantly remove your jacket. Your ailing shoulder is exposed, and now you’re one step closer.
“Doctor Jones will be with you shortly,” the staff member says. She closes the door as she disappears into the hall.
You begin to feel the familiar rush of anxiety. It starts in the pit of your stomach, and spreads up through your shaking hands. “Not again,” you say to yourself as you fight to suppress the overwhelming panic. Your throat becomes tight and your thoughts become fogged.
The doctor arrives with a rushed greeting. You’re the fourth patient he’s seen this morning, and there are three more in the waiting room. He gingerly cleanses the area and picks up the syringe of the cortisone injection. Your heart begins to race, the room begins to spin and, suddenly, everything goes black.
Taking Fear of Needles Seriously
No one enjoys visiting the doctor for injections or vaccines. At the least, sitting in an examination room while a medical professional punctures your skin with a needle is an inconvenient annoyance. For some patients, though, the thought of even being in the presence of a needle can result in hypertension, tachycardia and, in some cases, loss of consciousness.
As a medical professional, the thought of someone being fearful of needles can seem ludicrous. How could a grown adult fear the tiny prick of a needle administered by a highly trained professional? However, like many inexplicable phobias, it is no trivial matter. In fact, phobias related to needles and injections affect more than 20 percent of the general population.
Because needle phobia is so common, it’s important for doctors to take it seriously. Here are three methods physicians can practice to ease the fear of needles:
1. Accept the Concern as Valid
In many cases, people living with trypanophobia, the fear of needles, are embarrassed by their condition. After all, when one of your greatest fears is most commonly discussed in the context of children, you can’t help but feel uncomfortable voicing your unease.
The first step in assuaging these feelings is to recognize your patients’ concerns as valid and important. Assure them you’ll do everything within your power to make the experience more comfortable. By acknowledging this concern as a real, valid issue, you earn your patients’ trust.
2. Practice Breathing Exercises
Researchers have performed multiple studies on how breathing affects stress responses, and breathing exercises have been used in eastern medicine for thousands of years. Slow, deep breaths can decrease the release of cortisol and slow heart rate.
"When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor,” says Dr. Esther Sternberg, neural-immune expert at the National Institute of Mental Health. “When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.”
By taking a few minutes to walk your patient through a breathing exercise, you can not only help reduce their fear of needles—you’re providing them a tool to use in all future needle encounters.
3. Use an Anesthetic
The problem with pain is it’s completely subjective. What you consider painful and what your patients consider painful can be completely different. So, to assume pain from an injection is “no big deal” could be detrimental to your patient’s experience.
However, in the case of needle phobia, it’s not necessarily the pain that causes the stress response—it’s the anticipation of pain. The act of applying an instant topical anesthetic to your patient can help ease their panic and help them through the process.
By acknowledging your patients’ fears and concerns, giving them tools to combat anxiety and making use of medical devices like topical anesthetics, you can help needle phobic patients get through their traumatic experiences. Additionally, by recording their concerns, you can be better prepared for their next visit.
When it comes to needle phobia and needle anxiety, an instant topical anesthetic is a game changer. Learn more about our line of topical anesthetic skin refrigerants.