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

Having a pill stuck in your throat is both scary and painful. It can make you feel as though you can't breathe, cough, or swallow. It can even feel as if you're choking.

Research shows that 15% to 20% of people have trouble swallowing oral medications. If you've had trouble swallowing them before, it can make you more anxious and more likely to have trouble each time.

If a pill slips down the wrong pipe, it is important to stay calm since it’s easier to handle if you aren't panicking. This article provides some tips for how to avoid choking on a pill and for dislodging one that seems to be stuck.

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

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Dislodging a Pill Stuck in Your Throat

If you have trouble swallowing, it can increase the chances of pills getting stuck in your throat. If a pill does get stuck, avoid leaving it there until it dissolves. That can burn your throat’s lining and cause inflammation. 

If a pill is stuck in your throat, you'll probably start coughing. It may be unpleasant, but coughing 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 the pill has room to move. Normally, a few gulps should do. In severe cases, you may need a whole glass.

If at any time you feel that you are not able to breathe well, call 911. You can also try the Heimlich maneuver.

On Yourself

You can try to 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 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. 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 of your throat.

On Someone Else

If the person is unconscious, call 911. Otherwise, you can either try the five-and-five method (back blows) or the Heimlich maneuver.

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. Aim them 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.
  • Thrust inward and upward on the person’s abdomen.
  • Repeat five times, if necessary.

If you can see the pill blocking their throat, try to gently sweep it from their airway. Be aware that putting a finger in the person’s throat may push the pill deeper and make things worse. You can also lay them on their back, do chest compressions, and check to see if the pill has moved.

7 Dos and Don’ts

Getting a pill stuck in your throat is not usually a medical emergency. But it can escalate 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

Avoid the following:

  • Panicking
  • Lying down when taking a pill
  • Using too much force

If you get anxious, you may clench your muscles. That could tighten your esophagus, holding the pill in there longer. Relaxing can help the pill move down faster.

Common Causes

The main reason pills get stuck is the lack of moisture on the pill. Coated or encapsulated pills are especially hard to swallow without fluid. 

People with a disorder of the sphincter muscle at the top of the esophagus may have a hard time swallowing medications. 

Young children, people with a sensitive gag reflex, and older adults also have trouble swallowing pills, especially large ones.

Associated Medical Conditions

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

Esophagitis is painful inflammation and swelling in your esophagus. Acid reflux (GERD), infections, certain oral medications, and allergies can all cause esophagitis. 

If these conditions aren't treated properly, the lining of the esophagus could be damaged. That would disrupt the ability to move 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 and 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

Swallow pills with water and sit or stand upright when you're taking medications. Dry swallowing and lying down can increase the risk of esophagitis.

How to Swallow Pills

For Kids

Here a few ways to help children swallow their pills:

  • Mask the taste of the pill by giving them something sweet first.
  • Let your child decide how they want to take medications, which will empower them.
  • Consult your doctor before crushing your child’s medication.
  • Use a syringe to bypass the taste buds.
  • If your pediatrician says it's okay, wrap the pills in food.
  • Play with your child before giving the medicine so they see it as a good thing.

For Adults

Some adults have trouble swallowing pills because of health conditions like dysphagia. The esophagus muscles of older adults may weaken, and saliva production may decrease with age. Both can make swallowing harder.

People in hospital beds may also have a tough time with pills. Lying down could cause a pill to stick to the side of your throat. Pills stuck that way can cause pain, anxiety, and inflammation. 

Here are few tips to make swallowing pills easier:

  • Drink a lot of water before and after to increase moisture and push the pill all the way down.
  • 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 for the change. 

Summary

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

To dislodge a pill, try back blows, the Heimlich, or drinking water. If you can reach the pill with your finger, remove it—but be careful. You may wind up shoving the pill further into your throat.

Some medications and health conditions can make it more likely that a pill will get stuck. To reduce the likelihood, keep your throat moist, stand or sit upright, and use food to help the pill go down if necessary.

A Word From Verywell

Having a pill stuck in the wrong pipe can be uncomfortable, irritating, and frightening. Try not to panic, as it can worsen the situation.

Stuck pills usually aren't a medical emergency, but if you are having trouble breathing or someone is unconscious after a pill was 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 dissolve. That releases chemicals onto your throat lining, 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, stand behind the person, placing a foot in front of the other for stability. 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 it's 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. Take a few 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. 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. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Dysphagia.

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