How to Swallow a Pill: Tips and Tricks

Pill chewing is not a good solution

Swallowing pills is hard for many people and for a lot of different reasons. Some people have medical conditions that lead to physical difficulty swallowing pills, while others have psychological barriers to taking them whole. No matter the reason, you can learn how to swallow pills by using certain strategies.

Hand reaching for bottles of pills in a medicine cabinet

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What Causes Problems Swallowing Pills?

If you have a physical problem swallowing pills—such as a small mouth or throat or problems with the muscles involved—it's called dysphagia. This is a problem for people with a lot of different medical issues, including:

For many people who have problems swallowing pills, it's purely psychological. A 2021 study found that people who'd previously choked on pills or who'd had a strong negative reaction to the taste or texture of them were more likely to have trouble swallowing pills later. Even a single bad experience was enough to cause an ongoing problem.

When Chewing Pills Isn't Safe

With some pills, chewing or crushing is just fine. With others, though, it's a bad idea for many reasons. It can lower the effectiveness of a drug or cause serious side effects, including overdose.

Enteric Coating

First and foremost, some medications are enteric-coated. An enteric coating prevents the medication from being released until it reaches the small intestine. Enteric-coated medications, if not swallowed whole, can:

  • Cause stomach irritation
  • Become inactivated by stomach acid
  • Affect your taste buds
  • Stain your mouth
  • Damage your tooth enamel

Anything With "Release" in the Name

Some medications are specially designed to be:

  • Sustained-release
  • Extended-release
  • Timed-release
  • Controlled-release
  • Continuous-release

The physical structure of these medications is essential for them to be released into your bloodstream as intended. If you chew, crush, or cut them, all the medication hits at once, which means you can overdose on the drug. This can lead to potentially serious—and even fatal—side effects.

Follow the Instructions

All of the information your healthcare provider and pharmacist give you about medications is important. Always take your medication exactly as instructed in regard to timing, dosage, and other instructions such as with food or on an empty stomach. If the instructions don't mention chewing or crushing tablets, don't do it.

How to Swallow Pills

To overcome throat-tightening, jaw-clenching, and pill-chewing habits, here are a few different methods to try.

Numb and Relax

Before taking pills:

  1. Take several deep breaths to relax neck and throat muscles.
  2. Hold an ice cube or popsicle in your mouth to numb your throat and calm your gag reflex.
  3. Take a drink of water before placing pills on your tongue.
  4. Place the pill on your tongue. Some people recommend the tip while others suggest the middle of the tongue. Try both and see what works for you.
  5. Don't psych yourself out by thinking, "I'm taking a PILL," which may make your throat tighten. Think "FOOD" instead.

Pop-Bottle Method

This method is backed by at least one study and involves four simple steps.

  1. Fill a flexible plastic beverage bottle with water.
  2. Put the pill on your tongue and wrap your lips tightly around the entire bottle opening.
  3. Sucking on the bottle opening to maintain a seal, tip your head back, and drink from the bottle.
  4. Swallow immediately. The bottle will collapse inward and create a suctioning movement that helps you swallow.

Lean-Forward Technique

The same study backs this method, which is specifically for capsules (because they float.)

  1. Put the capsule on your tongue.
  2. Take a medium sip of water but don't swallow.
  3. Tilt your chin down toward your chest, which causes the capsule to float on the water and thus be near your throat without triggering a gag reflex.
  4. Swallow while your head is in this position.

Special Products

Several products are on the market that the manufacturers claim will help you swallow pills, and most only cost a few dollars. They include:

  • Pill-swallowing cups and straws
  • Throat-numbing sprays
  • Pleasant-tasting pill coatings you add yourself

Your healthcare provider or pharmacist may have experience with or have received feedback about these products, so ask if they recommend any. Keep in mind that some medications do come in liquid forms as well.

Pill Stuck in Your Throat?

Sometimes after taking a pill, you may feel that it's stuck in your throat. If you can swallow normally, it isn't stuck. However, it may have scratched or irritated your throat on the way down, which can cause swelling and make it feel like there's a lump in your throat. That feeling is called a globus sensation and experiences with it can make some people reluctant to swallow pills.

A Word From Verywell

Whether it's a sip of water, a popsicle appetizer, a special cup, or working on your psyche that will eliminate problems with swallowing pills—do it. Considering the risks of chewing or crushing some drugs, it's the safest approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is not being able to take a pill “all in my head”?

    Fear or phobia could be preventing you from relaxing your throat and swallowing a pill. In those instances, you may have to learn some tricks to manage your medication. However, there are also physical reasons why you may not be able to get medication down. These include damage to muscles and nerves or a blockage. Talk to your healthcare provider about these possibilities.

  • Is it OK to dissolve a pill in water?

    Sometimes. However, opening a capsule, crushing a pill, or dissolving it in liquid could change how you absorb the medication, which could lead to an upset stomach or even an overdose. You might also weaken the drug’s potency or release a possibly dangerous chemical. Read the warnings and be sure you understand how to properly take all medication.

  • Which tablets cannot be crushed?

    Time-released or enteric-coated medicines shouldn't be cut, crushed, or broken apart before swallowing. This can release the medication too quickly, causing potentially serious side effects.

  • Can you take pills with soda?

    When possible, it's probably best to take pills with water instead of soda. One study found that drinks like soda can affect the disintegration time of certain medications. Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns.

  • How can you help your kid learn how to swallow a pill?

    One idea is to let them practice by swallowing tiny candy sprinkles whole. When they have to take medication, you might have them try some of the methods above, like the lean-forward technique. Provide encouragement and remind them that it's a skill that takes practice.

  • Should you swallow a pill dry?

    No, it's not a good idea. While it might be possible to swallow a pill without water, there's a risk it could get lodged and damage your esophagus on the way down. Always make sure you have enough water to drink when taking medicine.

  • When is it OK to crush or cut up pills?

    First, ask your pharmacist if it's OK to crush or cut up pills. If they say it's safe, use a pill splitter to cut it into small pieces and mix into foods like applesauce or pudding.

11 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.
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  6. Michigan Medicine. Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).

  7. Crushing tablets or opening capsules: Many uncertainties, some established dangers. Prescrire Int.

  8. Harvard Health Publishing. Two tricks to make it easier to swallow pills.

  9. Almukainzi M, Alobaid R, Aldosary M, Aldalbahi Y, Bashiri M. Investigation of the effects of different beverages on the disintegration time of over-the-counter medications in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal. 2021;29(7):699-705. doi:10.1016/j.jsps.2021.04.032

  10. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Pill swallowing techniques for kids and teens.

  11. Dag MS, Abidin Ozturk Z, Akin I, Tutar E, Cikmam O, Taner Gulsen M. Drug-induced esophageal ulcers: Case series and the review of the literature. The Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology. 2014;25(2):180-184. doi:10.5152/tjg.2014.5415

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.