Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fears about needles

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Nov 17, 20226 minute read

Reviewed byadmin

What is Contamination OCD fear of needles?

A person with Contamination OCD centered on a fear of needles being contaminated can experience fears about shots, seeing needles on the ground, seeing people take their blood sugar, public trash cans, or anything that involves needles being present or potentially present—even sewing needles. 

In OCD, these worries and fears cause distress and anxiety, often involving rumination on the worst-case scenario or the worst possible outcome of coming into contact with any needle. The unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or fears about needles possibly being contaminated are called obsessions. In response, people with OCD will perform compulsions, which can be mental or physical, that serve to neutralize uncertainty or worry about needles and contamination, or to prevent a feared outcome. 

People with fear of needles in Contamination OCD may frequently avoid needles, avoid biohazard bins, and avoid doctors’ offices or any place with the potential of having needles. They may even avoid sewing needles. Sometimes they may frequently search sidewalks or other areas for possible needles, to ensure their safety or the safety of their loved ones. This can also involve keeping children and loved ones from important vaccinations or medications out of fear.

OCD fear of needles – Common obsessions

  • What if I accidentally step on a contaminated needle?
  • How can I be certain that a needle is clean?
  • What if my sewing needle somehow has something on it that could be harmful?
  • Did I feel something poke me? How can I be sure it wasn’t a contaminated needle?
  • What if I develop a life-threatening illness because a needle was contaminated?
  • What if I get a life-threatening illness via a needle and unwittingly spread it to loved ones?
  • What if my child contracts a serious illness due to a contaminated needle?

Common triggers

People with fears of coming into contact with needles may be triggered by situations involving medical providers, their children and loved ones seeing medical providers, having their blood drawn, donating blood, seeing needles in general, being around known IV drug users, and anywhere that they may come into contact with needles. They may avoid seeking medical attention for themselves and others out of fear of needing a shot or other procedure that would utilize needles, even when it is needed. They may be triggered by seeing needles in general or hearing about contaminated needles.

Triggers for people who are afraid of needles in Contamination OCD may include:

  • Seeing needles
  • Hearing about various illnesses spread through needles/blood
  • Learning about ways in which diseases are spread/contaminated medical equipment
  • Seeing someone else use a needle/seeing blood drawn, blood sugar taken, etc.
  • Vaccines for loved ones or children
  • Public spaces and trash disposal

How can I tell if I’m experiencing Contamination OCD with a focus on fear of needles, or if I’m being appropriately cautious about contamination and health?

This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.

The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve distress and anxiety. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to know something about the safety of a needle or contact, or a need to feel safe immediately and with certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.

Intrusive thoughts or doubts about contamination and safety can and do happen to everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily, or trust in their own knowledge. However, people with OCD struggle to do this, believing that they cannot tolerate the slightest uncertainty about the safety of needles. This is where OCD holds its power. People with OCD focused on a fear of coming into possible contact with contaminated needles can get better by learning that they can tolerate uncertainty about contamination, just as they do in other areas of their lives.

Common compulsions

When people with fears related to needles experience intrusive thoughts or worries that cause distress, they may engage in compulsions, which are physical or mental acts done to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts or fears. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions about needles and potential contamination from returning again and again, with an even stronger urge to perform compulsions in an attempt to feel better. Performing compulsions inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, reinforcing the idea that one’s fears about needles posed an actual threat or danger. 

  • Avoiding doctors’ offices, medical providers, biohazard bins, blood donation centers, or anywhere with the potential for contact with needles
  • Seeking reassurance from medical providers that needles were new or cleaned appropriately
  • Researching the proper protocol for cleaning and using needles
  • Checking one’s body for any sensation of pricking feelings 
  • Avoiding public places where needles could be present
  • Avoiding people with track marks on their arms
  • Scanning sidewalks, seats, and other places for needles

How to treat fear of needles

Contamination OCD focused on fears of coming into contact with needles can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle. 

ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. With ERP, you will learn effective ways to accept uncertainty about needles and contamination and sit with anxiety and discomfort from your obsessions.

In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger your fears and resulting anxiety related to needles. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will resist the urge to respond with compulsions. By doing this continually over time, you learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety, and you will feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty about needles and possible contaminants. 

Examples of possible exposures done to treat fears of coming into contact with needles that may be contaminated may include: 

  • Holding sewing needles
  • Holding safety pins
  • Poking the skin gently with sewing needles
  • Visiting a blood donation center
  • Donating blood
  • Seeing needles/touching needles
  • Seeing videos of people who were contaminated by a needle

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

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