Belonephobia (Fear of Pins and Needles)

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is belonephobia?

If you start to panic at the thought of needles, you may have belonephobia. In Greek, ‘belone’ means needle and ‘phobia’ means fear. Belonephobia translates to fear of needles. For many people, it includes fear of any similarly pointed object. So, more generally, belonephobia could be fear of pins and needles.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. While a person with generalized anxiety disorder worries and overreacts to many different situations all the time, a phobia is an extreme, overwhelming and persistent fear of an animal, object, person, activity, environment or situation. The phobia trigger presents little or no danger in reality. So, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion. Usually, people understand this, but can’t control their reaction. Children may not recognize this and see the danger as real.

Belonephobia is a simple phobia. Simple phobias are related to very specific objects or circumstances. In this case, the phobia is specific to needles or other point objects, such as pins. Simple, or specific phobias are the most common type of phobia, and belonephobia is a common simple phobia. Up to 10% of the population may suffer with belonephobia.

Belonephobia causes an intense, irrational fear of needles. Even the thought of needles can cause overwhelming anxiety in some people. This fear commonly begins in childhood around age 5. When it persists, it can develop into a phobia.

What are the symptoms of belonephobia?

Belonephobia symptoms range from mild uneasiness to a panic attack. They fall under two categories—physical and psychological. The physical symptoms are typical of a fight-or-flight response to fear or danger. Adrenaline is the fuel that drives this response. The adrenal glands release this hormone and neurotransmitter within minutes of encountering pins or needles (or thinking about them).

Common physical symptoms of belonephobia include:

  • Inconsolable crying, clinginess, or temper tantrums in children
  • Shaking, trembling, sweating or clamminess

Psychological symptoms of belonephobia include:

  • Avoidance of procedures involving needles, such as blood draws or injections
  • Dread, worry, or sense of impending doom at the prospect of a procedure involving needles
  • Extreme anxiety or distress while enduring a procedure involving a needle
  • Guilt or shame about fear of needles
  • Strong desire to escape situations involving needles

Having an aversion to needles is fairly common and is typically just an annoyance for most people. This is not a phobia. Phobias occur when the fear persists and interferes with your ability to function normally. Generally, this means the fear has been disruptive for more than six months. People with belonephobia may have panic attacks about needles. Because a fear of needles can result in avoiding or refusing medical care, early treatment for belonephobia is important for your (or your child’s) overall health and wellness.

What are the causes of belonephobia?

Experts don’t fully understand what causes simple phobias like belonephobia. It likely involves a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Some people can link their fear of needles to a specific negative or scary experience. Often, this experience occurred in childhood. A tiny area of the brain called the amygdala recorded the fear reaction. When confronted with needles again, the amygdala recalls the scariness.

Many times, there isn’t a specific experience at the root of the phobia. Experts believe inherited factors, such as personality traits and temperament, may play a role in this case. In fact, 80% of people with belonephobia have a first-degree relative who also suffers with the phobia. However, people may not necessarily inherit the phobia. Instead, the fear of needles could be a learned behavior from relatives. Your amygdala also records scariness or fear you see in other people in response to needles, lending to the notion that you could “learn” to be afraid of needles.

What are the treatments for belonephobia?

Fear of needles is very common in children. Childhood fears usually resolve with age. It’s important not to tease children about their fears. This can make the problem worse and cause guilt and shame from thinking it’s all in their head. The fear is very real for the person with the phobia. Understanding that it’s a real condition can help people begin to deal with it. Getting help early in the course of the phobia is often successful in treating it. Supportive family and friends are crucial for someone to overcome a phobia.

Doctors recommend treating fear of needles when it affects your ability to live and function normally. The most effective belonephobia treatments are forms of psychotherapy or talk therapy including:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which helps you identify unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors and change them. A therapist will guide you through the process of developing new beliefs about the problem. Usually, therapists use CBT along with exposure therapy to treat simple phobias.
  • Exposure therapy or desensitization therapy, which helps you learn to control your reaction to needles. It does this by gradually and repeatedly exposing you to your fear. A therapist guides you through anxiety-reducing techniques during these controlled exposures. It may start with just thinking about needles. Once you have mastered it without anxiety, you will move to more intense situations, such as looking at pictures of needles.

Medications can be useful when dealing with fear of needles. In children, pain-numbing creams can help. Short-acting antianxiety medicines may also be appropriate for some procedures involving needles. Talk with your doctor to see if medicines are the right choice for your circumstances. There are also specially decorated devices healthcare providers can use. Research suggests these decorations can reduce stress related to needles.

Complications are possible with simple phobias. They can lead to social isolation, depression, and substance abuse. With fear of needles, complications may develop if people delay or skip necessary procedures. Their fear may keep them from a vital test or diagnosis. The consequences of this can be potentially serious.

Was this helpful?
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 21
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