Strategies That Make It Easier to Swallow Pills

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 through the use of certain strategies.

Hand reaching for bottles of pills in a medicine cabinet

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Pill Chewing Is Not a Safe Alternative

I am what might be called a closet pill-chewer. I've taken arthritis medications on a regular basis since I was 19 years old and diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As a young adult, I realized that swallowing pills was a problem for me. That's when I resigned myself to chewing them. Some people who have difficulty swallowing tablets may crush them instead.

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.

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 doctor 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

In an attempt to overcome my throat-tightening, jaw-clenching, bad-tasting, pill-chewing habit, I have looked for solutions. Here are a few different methods to try.

Numb and Relax

Before taking pills:

  • Take several deep breaths to relax neck and throat muscles.
  • Hold an ice cube or popsicle in your mouth to numb your throat and calm your gag reflex.
  • Take a drink of water before placing pills on your tongue.
  • 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.
  • 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 doctor or pharmacist may have experience with or have heard stories about these products, so ask if they recommend any.

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 thing for you to do.

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Article Sources
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