A fear of needles is common among both younger patients receiving their annual flu shot and adults who have been administered countless vaccines but still dread that momentary shot of pain. A recent study presented the ANESTHESIOLOGY™ 2014 annual meeting has revealed a novel injection device that could alleviate needle phobia by distracting the brain’s pain receptors using pressure and vibration.

“As many as one in 10 people experience needle phobia, which may have negative consequences, such as decreasing the rate of vaccinations and blood donation,” Dr. William McKay, a professor of anesthesiology in perioperative medicine and pain management at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, said in a statement. “Our early research suggests that using a device that applies pressure and vibration before the needle stick could help significantly decrease painful sensations by closing the ‘gate’ that sends pain signals to the brain.”

McKay and his colleagues recruited 21 adults to test different levels of pressure, vibration, and temperature. The research team set out to determine how well these sensations hold up to the gate-control theory, which closes the channel that allows pain to register in the brain. A plastic needle that didn’t break the skin but produced needle-like pain was used to poke the shoulders of participants.

When researchers applied a certain amount of pressure and vibration to the injection point 20 seconds before using the plastic needle, the participant’s perception of pain decreased significantly. Although adding heat right before the plastic needle application added some benefit, the research team said this benefit was minimal. They still suggested adding heat or cold to benefit pain perception. McKay’s team plans on performing a second study on children to see how these sensations affect younger people who may perceive pain differently.

Another device that promises to quell the fears of people who are afraid of needles was recently developed by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The microneedle pill is exactly what it sounds like: a 2-centimeter-long pill fitted with 5-milimeter-long, stainless steel needles that can deliver the intended drug directly into the GI tract where there are no pain receptors.

“This could be a way that the patient can circumvent the need to have an infusion or subcutaneous administration of a drug,” Giovanni Traverso, a research fellow at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a gastroenterologist at MGH, said in a statement. “The kinetics are much better, and much faster-onset, than those seen with traditional under-the-skin administration. For molecules that are particularly difficult to absorb, this would be a way of actually administering them at much higher efficiency.”

Source: McKay W, et al. An end to needle phobia: device could make painless injections possible. ANESTHESIOLOGY™ 2014 annual meeting.