7 Dos and Don’ts to Dislodge a Pill Stuck in Your Throat

One of the worst pains to experience is having a pill stuck in your throat. You may not be able to breathe or cough, which can be irritating. In fact, a recent report found that 5,528 people in America died from choking in 2019.

If a pill went down the wrong pipe, it is important to stay calm since it’s easier to resolve it quickly when you are not panicking.

Studio shot of a young woman suffering with a sore throat against a grey background

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Dislodging a Pill Stuck in Your Throat

If you have difficulty swallowing, it can increase the chances of pills getting stuck in your throat. Avoid leaving medications to dissolve in your throat because it can burn your throat’s lining and cause inflammation. 

The most common symptom when a pill is stuck in your throat is coughing. The coughing may be unpleasant, but it actually helps dislodge the pill.

You can also try drinking water while lying down flat. The water helps push down the pill, and lying down relaxes your throat so that the pill has room to move. Normally, a few gulps should do, but a glass of water is best used in severe cases.

On Yourself

You can try to perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself. The Heimlich maneuver is one of the simplest ways to remove a foreign object from your throat, and it is as effective as having someone do it for you.

The following steps should help relieve pain and get the pill out of your throat:

  • Make a fist with one hand and place it on your stomach, above your belly button, and grab your wrist with your other hand.
  • Find a table or chair to bend over so you can apply more force.
  • Push your fist in and up quickly to push the object out from your throat.

On Someone Else

You can either try the five-and-five method (back blows) or the Heimlich maneuver. But if the person is unconscious, call 911. 

To perform back blows for the person, follow these steps:

  • Stand behind the person and place an arm across their chest while bending them over at their waist.
  • Using the heel of your hand, give five blows to their back, especially between the shoulder blades.
  • Place the thumb side of your fist above their belly button.
  • Hold your wrist with the other hand.
  • Quickly give five upward thrusts to their stomach.
  • Repeat this until the pill comes out or the person feels better.

To perform the Heimlich maneuver on someone else, follow these steps:

  • Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around their waist.
  • Bend the person slightly.
  • Place your fist slightly above the person’s navel.
  • Grab your wrist with your opposite hand.
  • Quickly apply force on the person’s abdomen in an upward motion.
  • Repeat five times, if necessary.

If you can see the pill blocking their throat, you can gently sweep it from their airways, but be aware that putting a finger in the person’s throat may push the pill deeper and complicate the situation. You can also lay them on their back, perform chest compressions, and check to see if the pill has loosened up.

7 Dos and Don’ts

Getting a pill stuck in your throat is not a medical emergency, but can be escalated if the wrong steps are taken.

What to Do

If you or someone you know has a pill stuck in their throat, try to:

  • Use a nearby object to dislodge the pill
  • Perform back blows or the Heimlich maneuver 
  • Drink water once you/they can breathe
  • Keep the throat moisturized

What Not to Do

But avoid the following:

  • Panicking
  • Lying down
  • Using too much force

If you get anxious, your muscles will tighten your esophagus and it will hold the pill in there longer. Therefore, staying relaxed can help the pill move down faster.

Common Causes

The main reason why you may have a pill stuck in your throat may be because of lack of moisture on the pill. Pills, especially coated or encapsulated ones, are not easy to swallow without fluid. 

People who have a disorder of the sphincter muscle on top of the esophagus may have difficulty swallowing medications. 

Also, young children, people with a sensitive gag reflex, and older adults often experience the most trouble swallowing pills, especially large ones.

Associated Medical Conditions

Medical conditions are sometimes to blame for pills getting stuck in your throat.

Esophagitis causes painful swelling in your esophagus that increases the difficulty of swallowing food and drugs. Acid reflux (GERD), infections, certain oral medications, and allergies are a few of the factors responsible for esophagitis. 

These can be treated after careful examination of the damaged tissue. However, if not treated properly, the lining of the esophagus could be damaged, which would disrupt its ability to transport food, fluid, and drugs from your mouth to your stomach.

Medications that can worsen acid reflux and increase the risk of esophagitis include:

  • Calcium channel blockers, statins, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and nitrates used for heart disease treatment 
  • Narcotics (opioids), like codeine
  • Progesterone
  • Sedatives, including benzodiazepines like Valium (diazepam) 
  • Elixophyllin, Theochron (theophylline)
  • Anticholinergics, like Ditropan XL (oxybutynin), used to treat irritable bowel syndrome
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline and doxepin

Avoid swallowing pills with too little water or lying down when taking drugs since these actions can increase the risk of esophagitis.

How to Swallow Pills

For Kids

Here a few ways to help children swallow their pills:

  • Use a syringe to bypass the taste buds.
  • Mask the taste of the pill by giving them something sweet first.
  • Let your child decide how they want to take the drug since it will make them feel empowered.
  • Consult your doctor before crushing your child’s medication.
  • Wrap the pills in food, but ensure you ask your pediatrician if that’s ok.
  • Play with your child before introducing the medicine so they see it as a good thing.

For Adults

Not just kids, but also adults may have difficulty in swallowing or associated medical conditions like dysphagia. In seniors, taking pills can be tough as the muscles of their esophagus have changed with their age and they experience a decrease in saliva production.

Also, people in hospital beds face difficulty swallowing pills. Lying down while taking your drug will encourage it to stick on the side of your throat, which can cause discomfort, pain, and eventually inflammation. 

Here are few tips that can make swallowing pills easier:

  • Drink a lot of water before and after to increase moisture and push the drug all the way down.
  • Try using a lubricant.
  • Put your pill in soft food.
  • Try different head postures like leaning forward.

If you have swallowed pills without issues before but notice a change, contact your doctor. Acid reflux might be the reason why you’re having difficulty swallowing. 

Summary

It’s not uncommon to have a pill get stuck in your throat, but it’s important not to get nervous—doing so will tighten the muscles in your throat and keep the pill stuck longer. While it’s normal for a pill to get stuck, some medical conditions can also contribute to difficulty swallowing pills and make this more likely. Be sure to drink a lot of water when taking your pills to prevent this from happening, but if a pill does get stuck, you can try the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge it.

A Word From Verywell

Having a pill stuck in the wrong pipe can be uncomfortable, irritating, and frightening. Coughing is part of your body’s reflex when it happens, and it helps dislodge the object blocking your throat. You can also drink more water or eat food to push down the pill, but try not to panic, as it can worsen the situation.

Generally, getting pills stuck in your throat isn’t considered a medical emergency, but if you are having trouble breathing or someone you know is unconscious after a pill got stuck in their throat, seek help right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does it hurt when a pill goes down the wrong pipe? 

If a pill gets stuck in your throat, it can break down and release the chemicals onto your throat lining (esophagus), which causes inflammation and pain. 

Is there an easy way to swallow large pills?

Try the lean forward method. Put a pill at the back of your tongue and squeeze water from a bottle into your mouth. Lean forward or look at the floor before swallowing. This will help the pill to float and move down easier.

How do you do the Heimlich maneuver?

To perform the Heimlich maneuver on someone, stand behind the person, placing a foot in front of the other for stability. Then make a fist with one hand, place it above the navel, and grasp the fist with the other hand. Perform 10 quick abdominal thrusts until the blockage is cleared.

How long can a pill stay stuck in your throat?

Sometimes after you swallow a pill, it may feel like it got stuck in your throat. In such cases, it is advisable that you take gulps of water. This feeling usually goes away in 30 to 60 minutes.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Statista. Number of deaths due to choking in the United States from 1945 to 2019.

  2. Pavitt MJ, Swanton LL, Hind M, et al. Choking on a foreign body: a physiological study of the effectiveness of abdominal thrust manoeuvres to increase thoracic pressure. Thorax. 2017;72(6):576-578. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2016-209540

  3. Gutschow CA, Leers JM, Schröder W, et al. Effect of aging on esophageal motility in patients with and without GERD. Ger Med Sci. 2011;9:Doc22. doi:10.3205/000145

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