Problems Swallowing Pills? 9 Methods to Help You

Swallowing a pill is an ordeal for some people. Sometimes there's a fear that it will get stuck or produce an unpleasant sensation in the mouth. Fortunately, there are many tips to help you swallow a pill.
Problems Swallowing Pills? 9 Methods to Help You
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 23 January, 2023

Many people find it difficult to swallow a pill. In fact, it’s estimated that one in three people feel discomfort when swallowing pills, even if they don’t have any physical condition that prevents them from doing so. For children, this is even more annoying, so we will mention some methods for swallowing a pill.

The truth is that swallowing pills is often an unpleasant experience. Many people are afraid of gagging or reject the taste that the pills leave in their mouths. For their part, most children do not assimilate the idea of swallowing something instead of chewing it.

Also, of course, there are those who have anatomical or physiological difficulties when swallowing pills. This condition is called dysphagia and causes problems swallowing any solid or liquid. A dry mouth also makes it more difficult to swallow a pill.

Why do I have trouble swallowing pills?

The very thought of swallowing a pill can cause discomfort and denial.

In most cases, the difficulty swallowing a pill is not in the body, but in the mind. Almost everyone can get through food without problems, even though the mouthfuls are much larger than a pill.

Sometimes, having to take a pill causes anxiety. It’s common for this to be due to unpleasant experiences from the past that, in particular, took place during childhood. A choking or an unpleasant taste may have caused this difficulty.

If the swallowing problem only occurs when swallowing a pill, it is clearly a mental obstacle. Similarly, in some people, the obstacle to swallowing pills is a strong nausea reflux. This is common in people who are picky with food or who choke easily.

If, on the other hand, there are always difficulties in swallowing anything, it is necessary to consult a doctor to detect the possible anomalies that generate this.

9 tips for swallowing pills

There are several tricks and tips that can help people who have difficulty swallowing a pill, even if they don’t have anatomical anomalies. The following are useful recommendations to achieve this.

1. Accompany the pill with plenty of water

It’s common to swallow a pill with a small amount of water. If someone has difficulty doing this, it may be a good idea to increase the amount of liquid taken with the pill.

It’s sufficient to take a large gulp of water before inserting the pill. Then, pop the pill in your mouth and try to pass it. If it does not work, remove the pill and dry it with a paper towel. Wait a few minutes and then try again.

2. Try the pop bottle method

A group of researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany published a report in the Annals of Family Medicine. In it, they suggest that the “pop bottle” method can be very effective in swallowing a pill.

The method consists of the following:

  • Fill a plastic bottle with water or soda mixed with water.
  • Place the pill on the tongue.
  • Close your lips tightly around the opening of the bottle.
  • Take a sip of the liquid, while maintaining contact between the lips and the bottle.
  • In the previous action, use a sucking motion to swallow the liquid along with the tablet.
  • Air should not be allowed to enter the bottle.

According to the study, there was a 60 % improvement in swallowing when using this method.

You might be interested in reading this article, too: Treatments for Dysphagia

3. Try tilting your body forward

This method was also proposed by researchers at the University of Heidelberg in the aforementioned report. It’s carried out as follows:

  • Put the tablet on the tongue.
  • Take a sip of water, but do not swallow it.
  • Tilt the chin to the chest.
  • In that position, swallow the pill and the water.

The study says that using this method improved swallowing by up to 89% over the traditional method.

4. Use a soft food

This is a very practical method for swallowing a pill, but you must have medical approval before applying it. Some pills should not be swallowed in this way. The technique is to “hide” the pill in any soft food, such as fruit puree, pudding, or the like. It should simply be swallowed without chewing.

5. Use a straw

Just put the pill on your tongue and then drink water or other liquid through a straw. The sucking motion is a way to distract your attention from the act of swallowing. There are also special medical straws on the market to help people swallow a pill.

6. Help yourself with a gel

There are sweet gels that can be used to coat a pill to make swallowing easier. This improves the taste and makes it easier to slide the pill down the esophagus. A study on this subject showed that 54% of people found this technique very useful for swallowing a pill.

7. Use a spray

There are sprays that act as a lubricant and make it much easier for the pill to pass down the throat and esophagus. The pill slides very smoothly and is hardly noticeable. It is especially indicated for those who have anatomical difficulties in swallowing a pill or for those who have a vivid memory of having choked once.

8. Try a special pill-swallowing cup

A pill-swallowing cup is available in most pharmacies. These are specially shaped with a cup at the top that extends to the back of the throat. However, these items are not recommended for those with dysphagia. In all other cases, they could be very useful.

9. Accompany your pills with thick drinks

Finally, one of the most effective methods of swallowing a lozenge is to use a glass of juice or some other thick drink. In this way, the person will focus on the texture of the drink, forgetting that he or she is supposed to swallow the medication. As with water, it is best to take a large gulp.

When does a person learn to swallow a pill?

Children have the most difficulty swallowing a pill because they feel the need to chew everything they put in their mouths. Children can acquire the ability to swallow a pill without problems between 4 and 6 years of age. However, it may take longer if you have autism spectrum disorder.

A common recommendation is to practice with young children until they learn to swallow a pill. You can start small and increase the size as the child achieves this skill. Avoid practicing while there is a distractor such as a television, toy, or other device.

How can I help someone swallow a pill?

A woman swallowing a pill.
Techniques for learning to swallow a pill help you trick your mind and minimize bodily rejection.

To swallow a pill, or learn to swallow a pill, the most important thing is to banish unfounded fears and get practice. One person can help another in this goal, first of all by example. Show them how to do it and prove to them that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Other actions that could be useful are the following:

  • Practice with small candies. It’s best to start with very small candies and work your way up to ones the size of a lozenge.
  • Do not press. Practice sessions should not exceed 10 minutes and should be as relaxed as possible. If pressure is exerted, it may only increase apprehension.
  • Try the different techniques. Encourage the other person to try different techniques for swallowing a pill. This way, he or she will discover for herself which method he or she is most comfortable with.
  • Change the tilt of the head. For many people, tilting the head slightly backward or forward can make swallowing a pill easier. In this regard, it’s a good idea to try from as many angles as possible.
  • Moisten the mouth and throat. Having a glass of water or juice before swallowing a lozenge will moisten the mucosa, which will make it easier for the medication to slide down.

Like this article? Here’s another great article for you: All About Hypnotics or Sleeping Pills

When to see a doctor

If a person finds it very difficult to swallow a pill, the first thing to do is to talk to a doctor. The drug may come in liquid form or in smaller sizes. You could also ask if it is possible to crush the pill, as not all pills allow this.

If no technique works, it is worth having the doctor check it out. Perhaps there may be an anatomical problem, dysphagia, or dry mouth. A check-up is necessary to verify if everything is all right and on that basis make the necessary decisions.

Pills shouldn’t be cut up and swallowed

The fear of swallowing a pill is not entirely unfounded, but the important thing is not to overestimate it. It’s possible to choke on a pill and cause an uncomfortable sensation, but this is almost never an emergency – just an uncomfortable experience.

It’s important not to make the decision to manipulate a pill on a whim without consulting your doctor. There are pills with special coatings or properties that do not allow changes such as splitting or crushing them, as they could lose their effect.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.