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Lots of people have difficulty swallowing pills. Dry mouth, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and fear of choking can all make the act of taking your prescribed medication feel next to impossible.
And for young children who’ve never swallowed pills before, the very idea of gulping down a tablet without chewing can be a hard concept to understand, let alone accomplish.
If you’re one of the many people who have difficulty swallowing pills, read on. We’ll discuss the physical limitations as well as the mental aspects that can make this task hard.
Plus, we’ll provide eight new pill-swallowing strategies that may make it easier for you and your child.
Swallowing isn’t as simple as it looks. Nerves help your mouth, throat, and esophagus work together to move food, liquids, and pills into your digestive tract.
Most of the time when you swallow, you don’t have to think about the reflexes at work. But when it comes to swallowing pills, you become suddenly all too aware of everything that goes into swallowing. The more you think about it, the more difficult it becomes.
The globus sensation
When you feel stress or anxiety, you may experience something called “globus sensation.”
Globus sensation is a tightness in your throat not related to an external physical condition but from a feeling of fear or dread. You may feel this kind of throat tightening right now, just thinking about the act of swallowing a pill.
The key to overcoming this particular fear is to learn not to focus on the act of swallowing. This is easier said than done, but it also becomes simpler with time and practice.
Some of the strategies covered in this article focus on how to take your mind elsewhere while you swallow your pills.
If you’re not able to get past the idea of swallowing a pill, try speaking with your doctor. They may be able to provide another form of the medication, such as a liquid or tablet that can be crushed into soft food.
Another option is to speak with a psychologist. They may have some in-depth mental exercises you can do to make swallowing pills possible.
Teaching your child how to swallow a pill can be challenging. Ideally, try teaching them this skill at a time when they’re not in need of medication. That takes the pressure off, and the learning will be easier if they’re not feeling sick.
Practice with sprinkles
Once your child is old enough to swallow small candies without a choking risk, you can start practicing how to swallow pills. For most children, age 4 is a good time to start.
Begin by having your child sit straight up in a chair. Then, place a very small candy (such as a sprinkle) on their tongue. Give your child a sip of water, or let them use a straw. Tell them to swallow everything in their mouth in one careful gulp.
You can model this method by doing it yourself once or twice in front of your child before you ask them to attempt it.
Remember to keep it fun. Stick your tongue out with a sprinkle, swallow, then stick your tongue out with no sprinkle — like a magic trick!
You can also experiment with products that are specially designed to make pill-swallowing easier for your child.
Pill-glide swallowing sprays, kid-friendly pill-swallowing cups, and medical straws can all make the pill-swallowing experience seem more like a fun activity than a scary medical moment. (We’ll describe how to use these helpful products below.)
You might also want to ask your child’s pediatrician about crushing (grinding up) pills or cutting the prescribed pill in half. You can also ask whether or not it’s OK to hide the crushed-up pill in soft food.
Never crush up pills without first checking with your doctor
Don’t crush up pills and add them to food without a doctor’s approval. Also don’t use this method for medications that need to be taken on an empty stomach.
Here are eight pill-swallowing strategies you can try:
1. Drink water (lots of it!)
Probably the most well-known method for swallowing a pill is to take it with water. You can refine this method for optimum success by tweaking it a little.
Try taking a generous swig of water before placing the pill in your mouth. Visualize yourself successfully swallowing the pill before you try to swallow.
If you gag or feel like you can’t swallow, carefully remove the pill and dry it off with a paper towel so it doesn’t dissolve. Give yourself a few minutes before trying again.
2. Use a pop bottle
The pop bottle method was designed by German researchers with the intention of helping people swallow dense tablets.
However, this method doesn’t work as well with capsules since they have air inside and weigh less than water.
To swallow pills the “pop bottle” way, you’ll need a full water bottle with a narrow opening. Start by placing the pill on your tongue, then bring the water bottle to your mouth and close your lips around the opening.
Use the pressure of the water bottle’s narrow opening to force water down your throat as you swallow. This technique improved the ease of swallowing pills for nearly 60 percent of people in one small study.
3. Lean forward
This technique may also help you swallow pills.
Start with your chin up and your shoulders back as you place the pill in your mouth, then take a medium-sized sip of water. Quickly (but carefully) tilt your head forward as you swallow.
The idea is to move the pill back toward your throat as you tilt your head forward and give you something else to focus on as you swallow.
This method improved swallowing for more than 88 percent of study participants in a small study.
4. Bury in a teaspoon of applesauce, pudding, or other soft food
One way to trick your brain into swallowing pills more easily is to bury it in a spoonful of something you’re used to swallowing.
A major caveat here is that not all pills should be taken with food. Some pills will lose effectiveness if mixed in with soft foods.
If your doctor or pharmacist gives the OK, try putting the pill on the tip of a teaspoon and covering it in a fruit puree or pudding of your choice.
5. Use a straw
You can try to swallow your pill by using a straw to wash it down. The reflex movement of sucking up liquid while you seal the straw off with your lips can distract you while you get your medications down.
You can also try specialized straws manufactured to help you take pills.
6. Coat with a gel
You may be able to swallow your pills more easily by coating them with a lubricant gel.
In one study,
These lubricants improve the taste of your medication. They also limit the discomfort some people feel as it slides down the esophagus and into the stomach.
7. Spray on lubricant
Like a lubricant, pill-swallowing sprays can help your pills glide down your throat more easily. This is especially helpful if you have a health condition that makes swallowing pills difficult, or if a pill has gotten stuck in your esophagus in the past.
One study of young adults and children showed that sprays such as Pill Glide had a significant effect in making pill-based medications easier to swallow. Simply open your mouth wide and apply the spray directly at the opening of your throat.
8. Try a pill-swallowing cup
Special pill-swallowing cups are available for purchase at many pharmacies. These cups have a special top that extends toward the back of your throat.
Pill-swallowing cups have demonstrated positive effects anecdotally, but there isn’t much published clinical research about how effective they are.
Pill-swallowing cups aren’t recommended for people with dysphagia, as there may be
Capsules tend to be more difficult to swallow than tablet pills. That’s because capsules are lighter than water. This means they float on the surface of any liquid you try to swallow along with them.
If swallowing capsules proves difficult for you, you may be able to ask your doctor or pharmacist about a tablet alternative.
There’s a chance that you find yourself without water and need to swallow a pill.
In most cases, this isn’t recommended. Swallowing pills without water can mean it takes longer for them to work. It also increases your chances for the pill getting stuck in your esophagus.
Some medications can irritate the lining of your esophagus if they become lodged there or take too long on the trip down to your stomach.
But if it’s between skipping a dose of your meds and taking a pill without water, stick with your prescription schedule.
You can take a pill without water by using an excess of your own saliva to create your own lubricant for the pill.
Take pills one at a time if you’re using this method. Tilt your head back or tip your chin forward as you swallow.
Certain health conditions, such as dry mouth or dysphagia, can make swallowing pills extremely difficult. For some people, there does come a point when swallowing pills is just not possible.
If none of the above recommendations work, have a conversation with your doctor about your difficulty swallowing pills. A workaround in the form of a liquid prescription or other recommendation might be possible.
In any case, don’t simply quit taking prescription medication because you can’t swallow your pills. Seek medical assistance if you’ve been missing doses for this reason.
It’s common to have a tough time swallowing pills. Many times, this difficulty is the result of a fear of choking or anxiety over a pill getting stuck.
This fear isn’t totally unfounded. It’s possible for a pill to become trapped in your esophagus. Although uncomfortable, it’s not usually a medical emergency.
Even though it’s not easy to get past a fear of swallowing pills, taking your prescribed medications in recommended dosages is extremely important. The strategies listed above should help you find a way to swallow pills that works for you.
If you’re not able to swallow pills due to a physical condition or psychological reason, speak to your doctor as soon as possible about adjusting your prescriptions.