Two tricks to make it easier to swallow pills

Harvard Medical School: The expression that something is “a hard pill to swallow” isn’t just a metaphor. Swallowing pills can be difficult and downright unpleasant. It causes one in three people to gag, vomit, or choke. That may keep people from sticking to their medication routines, which can make them sicker.

Hope for the pill-challenged

A study by researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany may help people with pill swallowing difficulties. They suggest two techniques that can help people improve their ability to get medicine down. Their report was published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The pop-bottle method is designed for swallowing tablets:

  • Fill a plastic water or soda bottle with water.
  • Put the tablet on your tongue and close your lips tightly around the bottle opening.
  • Take a drink, keeping contact between the bottle and your lips and using a sucking motion to swallow the water and pill. Don’t let air get into the bottle.

Researchers asked about 140 people with difficulty swallowing pills to test this method with their eyes closed, swallowing large and very large pills. The result: a 60% improvement in swallowing over the old method of just taking a sip of water from a cup and trying to swallow.

Study participants had even more success with a technique for swallowing capsules called the lean-forward method:

  • Put a capsule on your tongue.
  • Take a sip of water but don’t swallow.
  • Tilt your chin toward your chest.
  • Swallow the capsule and water while your head is bent.

This technique showed an improvement of 89% over the old method of taking a sip of water from a cup and trying to swallow.

What you can do to help swallow pills more easily

Until you know what’s behind your swallowing issues, here are a few things you can do to make swallowing medicine a little easier:

  • Put a pill in applesauce or pudding. The texture can make it easier to swallow pills whole.
  • Grind a pill into a powder and add it to applesauce or pudding.
  • Cut a pill with a pill splitter and swallow the smaller pieces one by one.

Make sure you ask your pharmacist if it’s okay to cut or grind a medication. Timed-release or enteric-coated medicines shouldn’t be broken apart. It may also be possible to get your medicine in another form, such as a powder, cream, or liquid, so don’t hesitate to ask.

If you have trouble swallowing pills or anything else, don’t put off getting an evaluation. Start with your primary care physician, who will likely refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist or to a speech-language pathologist for a swallowing assessment. Facing the possibility that you have a swallowing disorder may be a hard pill to swallow, but learning ways to overcome it will make your future of taking medication a lot safer.