Fear of Needles & Injections

Parent Q&A

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  • Our 9 year old has recently developed crippling fear when taken to get a vaccination or in need of a shot for dental work.  The  result in a kind of panic attack. Wondering if anyone has a recommendation for a hypnotherapist and/or other experience with this.  For context, he has struggled but succeeded with both these scenarios in the past..  We are happy (as is he) with our dentist so no need to suggest alternatives on that front but any other suggestions based on experience with getting your child through a particular fear would be appreciated.

    As a child I had extreme fear of shots/needles. It took a couple of nurses, my mom and the doctor to hold me down. Eventually I got over it when in high school I got mono and had to have several blood draws. Maybe hypnosis could work. Otherwise I suggest prepping the office before you come and getting a few staff to help. He shouldn’t need too many shots at 9 and hopefully he will grow out of it

    I've had a lot of success using resources from The Meg Foundation https://www.megfoundationforpain.org/

    They have a procedural pain page that I've used to help my kiddo feel prepared for shots.  I highly recommend it! https://www.megfoundationforpain.org/procedural-pain-resources/

    My kid has been dealing with extreme fears of shots too, but it was manifesting as general fear of all things doctor's office (no association with the dentist). She passed out doing the eye exam (panic) while just looking at the chart down the hall.  We had a bit of a breakthrough recently (she is 10).  I scheduled a regular check up for her and her older sister (who doesn't have the same fear).  I wrote to the doctor in advance that my primary goal was for her to have a positive experience with the doctor.  She almost panicked when the technicians struggled with her blood pressure but kept it together, following her sister's lead and by getting more information about the blood O2 check. The doctor did a regular exam and was very communicative about each step and why.  When it came time for the flu shot/covid booster option, I let her choose and she chose to get the flu shot (delaying the booster).  She left feeling confident.  It was a real win.  I hope your kid gets his confidence with the shots! 

  • Hello

    I have an 11-year-old with a needle phobia. We have tried the prescription given to us by her psychiatrist, natural anxiety remedies, and she is currently in weekly therapy. Buzzy bee, breathing, and other distraction techniques will not be enough. She was able to get cavities filled with oral sedation (Ativan). I'm looking for a pediatric office or facility that can offer something similar to that level of care. Thank you for any suggestions!

    No responses received.

  • I have a very needle phobic kid. I heard that they nasal spray is available again this year but can't find anywhere that stocks it (his pediatrician wasn't able to get any). Costco , CVS, Walmart, Walgreens and Pharmaca (Rockridge) don't have it.  Anyone know of somewhere that does?


    You can get one at Castro Valley Pediatrics 510-581-1446.  My child goes there.

  • My teen has a severe prohibitive phobia of shots, and is unable to get them. My teen would need to be restrained, let alone the emotional damage that would be caused and that he is big and strong. What do I do? We've done therapy, and for several years while we tried to process the situation he was able to receive waivers that allowed him to go to school, but not any more. My child has some vaccines, but 3 years ago something changed - and contrary to our persistence, he has not been able to overcome the fear. Any suggestions on how to deal with this huge obstacle? Does anyone know of a doctor that would give laughing gas additionally to vaccinating? A doctor that would work with us and be understanding? Most of our Kaiser doctors have not taken the phobia serious and not perceived it as a valid impediment. I'd like my child to get fully vaccinated, and to be able to return to high school next year (10th grade). Any suggestions appreciated, thank you.

    I completely empathize with you and your son. My daughter also (has/had) a phobia about shots but fortunately we were able to work through it. It started when she was about 12 years old...she would faint. Fortunately our pediatrician was very patient and understanding. They would have her lay down on a table and (despite her age) give her a "buzzy bee" vibrating ice pack before the shot to help. I would stay with her and try to help as well. She is now 18 and has mostly worked through her phobia. She had to have major surgery last year so was poked and prodded so many times just the exposure to everything forced her to deal with her phobia head on. She is now able to get shots and IVs without the paralyzing fear or fainting. I would suggest cognitive behavior therapy if you have reached a point where nothing is working. Good luck.

    This sounds very difficult and I'm so sorry you are experiencing it. Our teen's therapist specializes in anxiety and phobias. She is very good. She has a lot of teen and young adult clients. Her name is Anatasia Kim (correct spelling) and she is at The Wright Institute in Berkeley. She has spoken to us specifically about needle phobia in our therapy sessions when she talks about how CBT/DBT works. She sent us an email saying she'd be out of the country for a couple of weeks but I think she will be back next week. Her fees are worth every cent. Also you've probably tried this, but when our kid was having trouble with injections, they had someone call us and advise us. We ended up applying burn gel skin numbing cream an hour before the injection and wrapping it with plastic wrap until the injection. Also at Kaiser Oakland in the pediatric building (tall one by Mosswood Park) there is a person in the injection clinic who takes anxiety over injections very seriously. She has been there since our kid was a baby. She has a small, strong frame, short grey hair and is likely in her 60s. She had our kid lie down, instructed us in breathing, had us wait for 15 minutes on the exam table before leaving and do a particular movement to get the blood flowing so there would be no fainting. She noted that our kid was pale and clammy, really observed the state they were in, and treated them carefully and with thoughtfulness and seriousness so if you can ask for her I know she would be understanding and helpful. She takes it seriously. I wish you the very best of luck. What a good and loving mom you are.

    Sorry to hear what you are going through.

    I’m a nurse working in pediatrics and have given hundreds of shots to little and big kids. I have seen a lot of extreme anxiety over the years so I know the fear is real. Usually getting past the first one helps.

    I’d be willing to talk to you if you’d like.

    I’m surprised that the doctors aren’t taking this seriously, since their nurses or other staff are the people who have tried to administer the vaccinations. I haven’t had this problem but I have a couple of ideas:

    1. Are there vaccinations he needs that are available in oral or nasal form? Do some research, and if Kaiser tells you something isn’t available that you know is made, push as hard as you need to get that in an alternative form.

    2. Have you considered a mild sedative and/or an anxiety medication? Talk to a psychiatrist about your son’s problem and ask for appropriate prescriptions. Explain that therapy hasn’t helped.

    3. Consult with a pharmacist who specializes in compounding medications to find out if there are other delivery options for the needed vaccines.

    Good luck! I hope you find a solution so your son can attend school for the remainder of high school.

    Somatic Experiencing therapy may be able to help.  This form of therapy focuses on the body and can be useful in resolving acute traumas.  Peter Levine's books provide background on this kind of treatment and how it is used.  There are practitioners in the Bay Area that you can look up.

    Would the doctor be willing to bring him in and have him take a sedative ahead of time, and then a strong sedative or laughing gas at the office, so he's super relaxed and semi-conscious when he gets the vaccinations?  Seems like this is a life-altering disability, and Kaiser should be willing to take measures to get him vaccinated.  Does he need his wisdom teeth removed?  Could a doctor give him shots while he's under for some other medical procedure?  My kid hates shots too, she'd run away and scream, and shots would take FOREVER, up until mid-high school.  The good news...she is now able to deal with needles a young adult (19), and actually got a TATTOO, as soon as she turned 18.  I wish you the best.  

    As a pediatrician, I have had success with teens with shot phobia: using EMLA (a numbing cream) with Tegaderm, and having the teen experiment with using beforehand on their forearm and poking themselves (lightly) with a needle or safety pin (with parental supervision) to see that their skin is numb and they can handle a needle, having them work with a therapist to envision their skin being a metallic protection or other self-hypnotic vision that helps them deal with shots, practicing diaphragmatic breathing prior to and during the appointment, and taking an anit-anxiety med such as alprazolam 30 minutes prior to the appointment. If you have Kaiser, I would have a psychiatrist (who can prescribe) consult about this.

    My teen has a serious needle phobia too : (. Adding on to the advice you received I wanted to recommend that you reach out to the Child Life Specialist at Kaiser Oakland. The person in that job helped us get my son a blood test and shot in a private room with a lot of support. (I think the child life specialist mostly supports kids who need inpatient care, but I made a few calls and was able to connect with her. Sorry I don’t have a phone number for you. This was about 5 years ago.)  We also had prescription numbing cream and Valium. Sorry you’re dealing with this!

    Good luck!!

    Have you tried ERP therapy for your teen? (Exposure and Response Prevention therapy) It is the "gold standard" for OCD (not saying your teen has OCD, but this type of phobia reminded me of an OCD situation..... some people with OCD are extremely scared of certain medical situations/procedures and ERP therapy can completely change that.) It is not easy but it changes lives. 

    You would want to find a CBT therapist who does a lot of ERP.... a good resource is the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy -- http://sfbacct.com/

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Pediatrician for needle-phobic 6-year-old

Nov 2010

My 6-year-old son has a terrible needle phobia. So we are in search of a compassionate pediatrician who would be willing to work with him either behaviorally or with sedatives/anesthesia. Our current pediatrician favors restraining him for shots, which I refuse to do. Any leads would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Sad Mom

Ralph Berberich at the pediatric medical group in Berkeley has done extensive work in preparing children for immunizations with hypnosis. I have worked with him professionally and think highly of him. Medical professional

You should consider Ralph Berberich MD. He is a leader in techniques to help children with shots. I have personally seen him make a tremendous difference for children and their families about phobias such as this... Anon

My 10 year old daughter was exactly the same way until this year when a parent told us about using Lidocaine cream 10 minutes before the shot. My daughter's behavior and anxiety was so bad that nurses would remember her from year to year when she got a flu shot. It was horrid. However, she had to have two booster shots this year, we put the Lidocaine on both upper arms just in case they used the other arm. We explained that the cream would help her not physically feel the shot. We then helped her manage the anxiety. It helped that we went when there was almost no wait time. Also, the thing I love, love, love about Kaiser is that the pediatrician does not give shots and they are not even given in the regular pediatrician's office.

My daughter does not associate the shots with a visit to the doctor at all. Sometimes the shots are on the same day as an office visit and sometimes they're not.

My daughter admitted that she was nervous about going in for shots this last time, but also said she did not feel the shots AT ALL with the Lidocaine - best $8.00 we've ever spent. Mom of an anxiety-free daughter (about shots anyway)

Teen daughter has a needle phobia

April 2010

My teenage daughter has a phobia with needles and has had a hard time with any vaccinations lately. She just had a blood draw and almost passed out. She had an anxiety attack about it the night before. Then she was very upset during the draw and afterwards had the shakes, was light- headed and had to take awhile to calm down. She held a stuffed animal during the procedure to try to help her stay calm. I tried to get her to use a focal point and relaxation techniques. Does anyone have suggestions about how to help her more for the next time she needs her blood tested? I want to give her tools to help her the rest of her life with this.

I am 60 and have had this phobia since I was 11. I used to be embarassed and ashamed and put up with numerous attitudes about being 'adult', now, I won't. I tell the person taking my blood, straight out, I'm a wuss and have passed out in the past. This is the truth. I tell them to be gentle and at least half the time they will ask me if I want to lay down for the draw. I tell them to engage me in conversation, about anything, as it keeps me diverted, I also never look at the damn needle. In the past I have tried using an ice cube to numb the area first, only good if you know where they are going to draw, also headphones playing LOUD music (diversion). Unless it's a fasting situation, I make sure to drink lots of water, and to eat something prior, as it helps with keeping blood pressure up. I also will take Rescue Remedy once in awhile. It is a homeopathic remedy that is good for calming. I also try to schedule first thing in the morning so I don't think about it all day. Much better than I used to be, and not willing to put up with any crap about being sensitive. Your daughter is in great company. Been there

Well, I had a needle phobia as a child, too. Occasionally, I fainted. Some things that helped:
(1) not looking at the injection taking place, at all, or even at the needle, beforehand.
(2) Having someone kind gently stroke or pat me on the other arm or on the leg during the procedure, so I could concentrate on their love and the comforting sensation
(3) Needing allergy shots for bee stings -- I was more phobic about the bees and my reaction to a sting than the 2 allergy shots a week, for a year. I still don't look when I get a vaccine, dental novacaine or a blood draw, but I no longer freak out.
(4) When getting an epidural for a C-section, I visualized flower buds opening. I wish your daughter luck in finding her own paths to overcoming this fear and think it's wonderful that you want to support her in this. -- adapted

Hi -- I have the same problem and I think it was at its peak when I was a teen. The worst experience I had was when I got up quickly after a blood draw and started walking out and was very close to blacking out. I was disoriented and the room started closing in on me. Here's how I deal with it now:
- Avoid looking at the needle
- I always tell the technician/nurse that I have a hard time with blood draws and the like
- Take deep breaths before, during, and after
- I always sit or lie down for several minutes after so I don't pass out.
Good luck to your daughter, I'm sure she can overcome the battle if she doesn't psyche herself out. ASP