The shot is an often-dreaded component of a doctor’s appointment. Dread escalates to terror for the 10% of Americans who suffer from trypanophobia, the fear of needles. And yet, needles are necessary for the maintenance of our health. Americans receive many vaccines throughout life: varicella (chicken pox), tetanus, influenza, poliomyelitis (polio), rubella (German measles), pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis A, hepatitis B., and booster shots (additional doses of vaccines used to “remind” the immune system of the antigens needed to counter a disease) are often administered at annual check-ups to maintain immunity.
The needle most commonly used in vaccinations is the hypodermic syringe needle. Developed independently by both Pravaz and Wood in 1853, it uses a skin-piercing needle attached to a syringe. Since then, it has developed into the disposable, plastic model that is most commonly used today. Microneedles and jet injectors have been recently developed as alternatives to the hypodermic syringe needle. Microneedles are small metallic squares that are lined with 400 silicon-based microscopic needles, each the width of a human hair. These small, hollow needles are so thin that application is painless. Microelectronics in the device control the time and dosage of the medicine. Jet injectors use air pressure to make the medication or vaccines thin enough to penetrate the skin and travel as deep as the muscle.
Another use of needles is in IVs. IVs have a central needle surrounded by a catheter, a thin flexible tube. IVs are used to deliver a steady supply of liquids or medicine directly into the veins of the recipient. The catheter is inserted and kept in the vein to provide access to the bloodstream.
Possibly the oldest use of needles is in acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine and one of the longest used healing practices in the world, helping restore and maintain health through stimulations of specific points on the body. In many countries, especially China, Japan, and Korea, acupuncture is considered to be an alternative way of healing. Acupuncture is performed by penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metal needles using electronic devices or by the hands of qualified practitioner. Acupuncture revolves around maintaining the balance in the body, represented by the forces yin and yang. According to Chinese philosophy, disease is due to an imbalance blocking the vital energy, qi, which is supposedly remedied by inserting needles into specific points on the body. Acupuncture is still being studied to determine its specific effects on health conditions, such as headaches. Doctors are also trying to determine how the human brain responds to acupuncture. The full effects of acupuncture are unknown, but that does not prevent many from trying this alternative treatment to alleviate their illnesses.
Needles are necessary in medical practice, helping maintain health in both modern and traditional methods. Needles are responsible for administrating vaccines, soothing pain, and saving lives. There is no need to fear the needle.
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