How to Dislodge a Pill Stuck in Your Throat

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Having a pill stuck in your throat can be both scary and painful, but there are things you can do to dislodge the pill or prevent it from happening in the first place.

Research suggests that 15% to 20% of people have trouble swallowing pills. If you've had trouble swallowing pills in the past, the anxiety associated with pill-taking can make it all the more likely to happen again.

This article describes ways to dislodge a stuck pill and what to do when faced with a serious choking event. It also explains why pills get stuck and ways to prevent this from occurring in adults and children.

What to Do When You Have a Pill Stuck in Your Throat - Illustration by Ellen Lindner

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

How to Dislodge a Pill Stuck in Your Throat

If a pill or tablet gets stuck in your throat, the first thing to do is not panic. Panic causes your throat to tighten, holding the pill in longer. Relaxing can help the pill move down faster.

If you start coughing, that's OK. It may seem unpleasant, but coughing actually helps dislodge the pill.

It may also help to take a few large gulps of water. Gulping helps open the pharynx (throat) and can help dislodge the pill. You may or may not feel an immediate effect. Sometimes the pressure will ease entirely or the discomfort may gradually settle over 30 to 60 minutes.

What you probably don't want to do is wait for the pill to dissolve. This is particularly true of enteric-coated pills that are meant to be dispersed further down the digestive tract after the coating has dissolved. Letting the pill sit in the throat and esophagus (feeding tube) may end up causing burning and pain as it dissolves.

The bigger problem is not when a pill gets stuck in the esophagus, but when it ends up getting stuck in either the trachea (windpipe) or the passageway between the throat and the trachea called the larynx (voice box). This can lead to choking, asphyxiation, and possible death.

If you (or someone you're with) can't breathe, cough, or speak, call 911 immediately. Then follow these steps to perform an emergency first aid procedure called the Heimlich maneuver—referred to today as abdominal thrusts.

Performing the Heimlich Maneuver on Yourself

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

The following steps can help dislodge a pill stuck in the larynx or trachea:

  1. Make a fist with one hand and place it on your stomach above your belly button.
  2. Grab your wrist with your other hand.
  3. Find a table or chair to bend over so you can apply more force.
  4. Thrust your fist in and up quickly to compress the diaphragm (the muscle between the abdomen and chest cavity).
  5. Repeat until the pill is dislodged.

Performing the Heimlich Maneuver on Someone Else

The American Red Cross recommends the "five-and-five method" which involves a series of back blows followed by a series of abdominal thrusts (a.k.a. the Heimlich maneuver).

To perform the five-and-five method:

  1. Stand behind the person, placing an arm across their chest while bending them forward at their waist.
  2. Give five back blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
  3. Give five abdominal thrusts by making a fist with one hand and placing it slightly above the person's belly button. Grasp your fist with your other hand and give a quick, upward thrust into the person's abdomen as if you were trying to lift them up.
  4. Continue the five-and-five method until the pill is dislodged and the person can breathe or cough forcefully.

If the person falls unconscious, carefully lower them to the floor.  Open their mouth and, if you can see the pill, reach inside with a finger to sweep it out.

Do not reach inside if you cannot see the object as it can push the pill deeper into the airway. Instead, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until emergency help arrives.

Why Do Pills Get Stuck?

The main reason pills get stuck is the lack of moisture when swallowing. Large, enteric-coated tablets are especially difficult to swallow without some fluid to help wash them down. 

Swallowing pills can also be tough for children who have smaller throats and older adults who tend to have reduced peristalsis (rhythmic movements of the digestive tract) and less saliva production. Other people simply have an overly sensitive gag reflex.

People who are bed-bound or hospitalized may also have a tough time swallowing pills. Lying down can easily cause a pill to stick to the side of your throat.

Pills are also difficult for people with dysphagia (the medical term for difficulty swallowing). This functional condition can occur for many reasons, including stroke, Parkinson's disease, esophageal disorders, esophageal tumors, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and even certain medications like ACE inhibitors or opioid drugs.

By identifying the cause of the stuck pill, you can work with your healthcare provider to find solutions or strategies to overcome the problem.

How to Swallow Pills Easier

Here are a few tips to make swallowing pills easier for adults and children:

  • Take several deep breaths to relax your throat before taking a pill.
  • Drink a lot of water before and after taking the pill.
  • Put the pill in soft food. Ask your healthcare provider if a pill can be crushed and added to food.
  • Use a squirt water bottle. After placing the pill on your tongue, wrap your lips around the nozzle and suck hard as you squeeze the bottle.
  • Try the lean-forward method. Put the pill at the back of your tongue, take a medium sip of water, and tilt your chin down as you swallow.
  • Take the pill with a spoonful of honey before washing it down with water. This can help ease the bitter taste that causes gagging.
  • Roll an ice cube or popsicle in your mouth for several minutes to numb your throat and calm your gag reflex.


It’s not uncommon to have a pill stuck in your throat. It’s important to stay calm if this happens. Anxiety can tighten the muscles in your throat and keep the pill stuck longer.

Coughing and drinking extra water can help dislodge the pill. If the pill goes down the wrong tube and gets stuck in the windpipe, you may need to perform back slaps and abdominal thrusts (formerly known as the Heimlich maneuver) to dislodge the pill and avoid a choking accident.

There are many medical and practical reasons why a pill can get stuck in a person's throat. Smaller children, older adults, and people with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) are at especially high risk.

Even so, there are techniques that can make pill-swallowing easier, including washing the pill down with a squirt water bottle, leaning forward as you swallow, or tucking a pill in soft food. Speak with your healthcare provider.

5 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. Radhakrishnan C, Sefidani Forough A, Cichero JAY, et al. A difficult pill to swallow: an investigation of the factors associated with medication swallowing difficulties. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2021;15:29-40. doi:10.2147/PPA.S277238

  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. American Red Cross. Conscious choking.

  4. Kleinman ME, Brennan EE, Goldberger ZD, et al. Part 5: adult basic life support and cardiopulmonary resuscitation quality: 2015 American Heart Association Guidelines update for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation. 2015;132(18 Suppl 2):S414-35. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000259

  5. Wilkinson JM, Codipilly DC, Wilfahrt RP. Dysphagia: evaluation and collaborative managementAm Fam Physician. 2021;103(2):97-106.

Additional Reading

By Margaret Etudo
Margaret Etudo is a health writing expert with extensive experience in simplifying complex health-based information for the public on topics, like respiratory health, mental health and sexual health.