Distractions That May Ease Needle Phobia

Getting poked and prodded with needles is a part of life. From routine blood draws and injections to IV fluids and chemotherapy, needles serve as an unpleasant but necessary medical tool.

While most people can handle the stick of a needle with little to no problem, others struggle with genuine fear that triggers chest pain, a racing heart, hot and cold flushes, dizziness or nausea. Some even faint at the mere sight of these common therapeutic implements.

“Needle phobia affects at least 10 percent of the population,” according to an article in U.S. News & World Report, and “some experts say it’s still an under-diagnosed condition, because many who fear needles avoid getting medical treatment.”

A variety of distraction techniques may help adults and children ease some of the anxiety associated with needle phobia.

Grown-Up Strategies

When it comes to squeamish adults, something as simple as listening to music, watching videos, playing on a mobile app or game, or fiddling with a fidget spinner may help redirect their focus away from the actual needle.

Less traditional options include biofeedback, in which participants harness the power of their minds and use relaxation exercises to overcome stress, as well as hypnosis.

In addition, if pain is the main concern, over-the-counter numbing creams and patches are available to help dull the area where the needle will be inserted.

Kids’ Play

Many additional techniques may be especially useful for kids.

With older children, chatting with them about an unrelated topic may be enough to do the trick. Having them eat or suck on a piece of candy can also be beneficial because sugar releases endorphins, which may reduce the perception of pain.

After an injection, an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help alleviate discomfort at the injection site.

For little ones, reading stories, letting them watch their favorite show or movie on a smartphone or tablet, or engaging in interactive apps may help redirect their attention. Other distractors include sensory toys, such as squishy or bumpy balls or a pin art block, or visual motion objects, such as a perpetual motion machine, hourglass or calm-down jar — a popular Pinterest project that combines water, food coloring and glitter.

As with older kids, the endorphin-releasing powers of sugar may be a good option for young ones too. Try giving a toddler a lollipop or fruit juice, or put juice or another sweet substance on a baby’s pacifier. In addition, breastfeeding immediately after an injection can help to soothe an infant.

A product such as Buzzy, which uses ice and vibration to create different sensations (a medical concept called gate control), may help create both a physical and mental distraction for children.

An even more immersive experience for kids is using high-tech distractions such as virtual reality games.

Virtual Distraction

In 2016, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, began a pilot study on a virtual reality system called Voxel Bay, which allows kids to play a series of games during treatment without using their hands or arms — the locations of most needle procedures.

Children can control games through head glances and movement, as well as breath. Headsets are cardboard, which makes them light and disposable, and games run on smartphones and are wireless. Nurses monitor games as kids play so they know when more or less distraction is needed and can get involved accordingly.

The pilot study was the first of its kind and was developed by the hemophilia team at Nationwide in partnership with students from The Ohio State University’s Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. In 2017, the system was named one of the top five finalists for the SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards.

Doctors and game designers plan to fine-tune the virtual reality headset, which they hope will lead to its use around the country.

To The Point

While no single technique can be guaranteed to cure needle phobia, using one or a combination of them may at least help alleviate some of the anxiety that accompanies a needle procedure.

One company that’s trying to help is Custom Comfort Medtek, which has been manufacturing medical furniture for more than 30 years. Recently, the company ordered and distributed fidget spinners – known as Blood Buds – to a number of doctor’s offices, clinics and medical laboratories across the nation. For more information on all of its products, visit CustomComfort.com.

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