Needles make you pass out

If the corona vaccination is getting in the way of a syringe phobia

The corona vaccination fills many with hope of a return to normalcy. In media reporting, there is currently no way around pictures of syringes that are stabbed in bare upper arms or proudly held in the camera. Such images cause sheer panic in people who suffer from a so-called blood, injury and injection phobia.

There are not so few who suffer from it. Up to 20 percent of the population is afraid of blood or needles. In around three to four percent, the fear takes on strong proportions. They no longer go to the doctor and do not want their blood drawn. As a result, they miss examinations and endanger their health in the long term. Often those affected even avoid the dentist, because there, too, injections are administered to relieve pain, reports the psychologist Johannes Lanzinger from the Phobius practice, which specializes in anxiety disorders.

With the media coverage of the vaccination, many are currently not doing well: "There are those affected who pass out just looking at a syringe," says the psychologist. He is currently noticing an increasing number of inquiries about this in his practice.

In the situation itself, the fear of those affected can increase to extremes. The autonomic nervous system is activated. Stress, tension and blood pressure all rise. "And the moment the needle sticks into the vein, the exact opposite happens," reports Lanzinger. The blood pressure drops suddenly. In more than 60 percent of those affected, this can lead to fainting.

Increase in stress

What's behind the fear? "Everyone has an innate fear of injury," says Lanzinger. In almost every person there is a physiological reaction shortly before a vaccination or a blood draw, i.e. a slight increase in stress. "With a phobic, this reaction is much, much stronger."

Those affected would repeatedly report that they had to be stricken down by several people in order to have a blood sample or a vaccination. "Of course, that's not good for the progression of a phobia," says Lanzinger. Traumatic experiences increase them when there is already a basic fear. 70 percent of it is genetic. The rest are environmental experiences. "So you can very well have experienced an unpleasant situation and not develop a phobia from it," emphasizes the psychologist.

The good news for people who suffer from this phobia: Therapy is relatively straightforward - and quite promising. In Lanzinger's practice, those affected learn techniques to cope with fear and prevent fainting. The concept is called applied tension. All muscles are tensed to prevent a drop in blood pressure, which leads to fainting. Relaxation methods can also help.

Virtual reality

In the next step, those affected are first shown pictures and drawings of syringes, and later also videos. They should practice relaxing. As a climax, the patient is put into a situation using virtual reality in which an injection is administered. The therapist then touches the point on the upper arm where the injection will be administered in virtual reality with a fork. "It looks very real," says Lanzinger.

Afterwards, it is often possible for those affected to take a blood sample or have a vaccination on their own. "In some cases, however, the therapist also goes with you," says Lanzinger. With some, there is a significant improvement within a short time, with others the fear never completely goes away. "But it is often already a success when someone can take a blood test again after 20 years - even if it is still uncomfortable," says Lanzinger.

Special vaccination offer

Lanzinger is convinced that people with an injection phobia will not go to the corona vaccination: "Even if the person sees one hundred percent that it would make sense."

People who are afraid but can handle the situation can be reached. Above all, through health workers who respond to patients' fears and respond with understanding. Statements such as "Don't queue up like that" or an annoyed reaction would make the situation even worse for those affected: "But if there were a vaccination offer with self-supervision for anxious patients, it could work."

According to the expert, it would also be helpful if pictures of syringes were not used in vaccination campaigns and in media reports. (Franziska Zoidl, 9.2.2021)