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Fear of needles? Doctors have tools to help patients cope

Severe phobias may require therapy with gradual exposure to needle procedures

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Doctors say fear of needles keeps many people from getting shots.

A pediatric psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City said there are tools they're using to help patients receive COVID-19 vaccines and other immunizations.

For little ones afraid of needles, the hospital has a plan called the "comfort promise." The first step is offering something to numb the skin before a shot, like a topical cream or a cold spray.

"It does sort of chill that top layer of skin and provide some distraction," said Dr. Amanda Deacy, a pediatric psychologist.

The hospital has that and a tool called a shot blocker on hand for vaccinations.

"If you put it on the arm and this shot is administered in this opening here, you basically put this in between the pain and the brain and these spikes in the back disrupt signaling to the brain that occurs and provides distraction neurally to mitigate the pain response," Deacy said.

A vibrating bee has a similar effect. Comfortable positions and distractions help, too. For the youngest patients, the doctor recommends a bit of sugar water.

"Babies have the ability to convert sucrose or that sugar to endogenous opioids, which essentially means it's their own internal pain medicine," Deacy said.

Severe phobias may require therapy with gradual exposure to needle procedures.

The pediatric psychologist said that this fear could lead people to avoid medical settings altogether.

"That is exactly what we want to prevent, is the kind of the spread of that phobia to either missing opportunities for health maintenance in the form of routine immunizations," Deacy said.

It's not just children. One in four adults have needle fears, too. The hospital is offering the shot blocker and Pain Ease spray to employees for their flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines.