Need Help with How to Swallow Pills? Try These 6 Easy Steps

It Doesn't Have to Be a Struggle to Take Your Medication

August 11, 2020
Title image for tips for swallowing pills: man drinking from water bottle

Everybody has heard the phrase “hard pill to swallow” when describing something difficult to come to terms with. For many people, one of life’s many hard pills to swallow are pills themselves. It may come easy to some but there are legitimate reasons why many people struggle with this. This article will break down the reasons that swallowing pills can be challenging for some and provide some great tips to make it easier.

What Makes Swallowing Pills Difficult:

There are several factors that can contribute to difficulties swallowing pills. Some of them stem from medical problems and some of them are entirely psychological. The most obvious and the most common, especially among children, is a fear of choking. It may seem like the answer is to force yourself to take the pill anyway and get over the fear but your body’s response to feeling anxious means it will legitimately be more difficult. When you feel anxious your whole body becomes tenser. This includes your throat. Not only will it become stiffer and more difficult to swallow but your throat will narrow making it even more difficult.

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The second common cause of trouble swallowing pills is a dry mouth. This can of course be a symptom of other medical problems, but it can also simply mean you are dehydrated. Unless you suffer from a condition that leaves you with chronic dry mouth, you can simply drink a glass of water before taking the pill as well as after.

The final common cause of swallowing problems is dysphagia. This is a term referring to general swallowing difficulties that can originate in a variety of ways. Among the most common causes are muscle or nerve damage and having previously suffered a stroke.

Tips to Make Swallowing Pills Easier:

Drink Lots of Water: There is a reason this is the first thing a doctor will tell you about swallowing pills. It is a huge part of our ability to swallow as water lubricates the throat. You should drink water before taking a pill as well as during and after. It is especially important to drink water after swallowing with certain medications that have the potential to expand after being taken to make sure they reach the stomach. In general, drinking a small glass of water both before and after taking a pill is the easiest way to ensure everything goes down as it should.

Use a Lubricant: Water is almost always sufficient lubricant but if it just isn’t working for you another option is to use a product like Pill Glide. You simply spray a little in your mouth and it helps the pill go down easier.

Put Your Pill in Soft Food: Choose a food that is very easy to swallow, something like apple sauce, and try taking your pill with it. You can either put the pill in the food and then eat it or you can chew a bit of food and then put the pill in your mouth and swallow. Try it both ways and see which one you find easier. Just be sure not to chew on the pill, as some medication is designed to dissolve over time, and biting into it could break the outer layer and potentially reduce its effectiveness. If you decide you want to crush up the pill and add it to your food that way be sure and consult your doctor or pharmacist first.

Try Different Head Positions: If you have ever tried to eat or drink something while laying down you know just how big of a difference your head position makes when it comes to swallowing. To find what position you like best you can use a small candy or piece of food and swallow with water while tilting your head in different positions. Try in the center, angling to the left or right and backward/forwards. You will certainly find a position you prefer. Even if this alone does not solve your pill swallowing troubles you can easily combine it with the other tips on this list.

Try Using The “Lean Forward Method”: German researchers found two very effective methods of swallowing pills in a study conducted and published in 2014. The first one is the lean forward method. You simply put the capsule on your tongue and take a sip of water but do not swallow. Then, slightly angle your chin towards your chest and swallow the capsule. For a more in-depth explanation, you can check out the study here.

The NHS has a helpful video you can check out here -

Disclaimer: This is a third-party video and may contain advertisements

Try Using the “Pop-Bottle Method”: The other method found by the Germans and published in the Annals of Family Medicine is the Pop-Bottle method. This method requires flexible water or pop bottle. You simply need to fill it water, put the tablet on your tongue, and close your lips tightly around the bottle. Then, keeping a tight seal around the bottle take a drink with a sucking motion. If done properly, you will not allow any air to enter your mouth and the bottle should squeeze onto itself and the pill will be swallowed. More information can be found about this method here.

The NHS has another helpful video you can check out here -

Disclaimer: This is a third-party video and may contain advertisements

Important Note: If you suffer from severe difficulty swallowing food and drink (not just pills) do not try these tips as you could choke. See a doctor or pharmacist and seek further advice.

Alternative Solutions if You Absolutely Cannot Swallow Pills:

If none of the above tips seem to help, there are still ways you can safely take the same medication. The first thing you will need to do is speak to your doctor or pharmacist though. You can find out if there are other versions of the medicine available. Common alternatives are liquid or dissolvable/chewable tablets. If there are no other versions available, find out if you can crush, divide, or open the tablets/capsules. This can be an easy solution, but it is important to consult your doctor or pharmacist first to make sure the medicine will still be safe and effective.

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