Prevention of needle-induced fainting through infrared thermal imaging and serious games

NWO/ZonMw Veni grant for Elisabeth Huis in 't Veld

Teaching donors and patients how to prevent vasovagal reactionelisabeth Huis in 't Velds through infrared thermal imaging and serious games, that is what Elisabeth Huis in ‘t Veld wants to achieve. NWO awarded 250.000 euro to make her project idea FAINT: FAcial INfrared Thermal imaging in the prevention of needle induced fainting, a reality.

It is probably ok to say that most of us are not too excited about injections, needles or blood in general. Needles and blood are quite unique in their effect, as they can cause unpleasant physical reactions such as lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea and in some people even fainting.

In her project, Elisabeth will be the first to look at the interaction between the psychological, neurological and physiological responses at play. Even though there is scientific evidence that the brain has a negative reaction to seeing needles and blood, and that donors who experience fear, anxiety or stress are more likely to faint, the mechanism behind this response is not yet understood. Even people who are not consciously afraid of needles can experience psychical and hormonal stress, without being aware of it.

Elisabeth: “We know that hormonal, physical and psychological stress levels start to rise when people enter the blood bank, and that it peaks at the moment the needle is inserted (see the dissertation from Maurits Hoogerwerf). As such, people can be surprised when they experience this lightheadedness or fainting.

Infrared Thermal Imaging

But how can we teach donors to prevent physical responses before they are even aware of them, and before they escalate into a faint? “I want to develop a serious game for smartphones which will help donors and patients learn how to gain control over their physical reactions, using infrared thermal imaging”, Elisabeth explains. Thermal imaging is an innovative method to measure emotional and physical symptoms by looking for certain signals in the face. The first step of the project is to study which signals predict whether someone is likely to experience a vasovagal response. 

Image: anxiety leads to cold nose

Serious games

The basic idea is then to build a game, and that the smartphone camera monitors your well-being, which causes changes in the game. Through this visual feedback, you can learn how to adapt your responses.  Elisabeth: “I know it sounds like magic, but this so-called biofeedback method is well-known and proven to be effective for a wide range of applications. Because you get a direct visual feedback of how you are doing, you can very quickly learn how to control these emotional and physical reactions! And even better, instead of me telling you what the best solution is, you will found out yourself what works best for you personally.”


As experiencing a syncopal event is very unpleasant, and can also cause needle phobia in people who weren’t afraid before, it is best if they are avoided altogether. In this project Elisabeth will work very closely with the blood bank, the TTA department, and blood donors to ensure that at the end of the project, they will have created something valuable for donors and patients alike.