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Published on March 26, 2018

Swallowing pills isn’t as hard as it seems

Swallowing pills isn’t as hard as it seems

Contrary to the Mary Poppins song, a spoonful of sugar really won’t help the “medicine go down in the most delightful way.” But our expert says a spoonful of pudding will.

“If you have a tough time swallowing medicine, put the pill in a spoonful of soft pudding, yogurt or apple sauce,” said Rosanne Lanciano, M.S., CCC/SLP, speech language pathologist at Cape Cod Hospital. “Use something with enough heft to carry the pill down.”

According to Lanciano, one bad experience getting a pill down your throat may make you fearful, so she offered several suggestions to make swallowing easier.

“Overcoming the fear of getting a pill stuck in your throat begins with your next good experience,” she said. “We help patients who have cancer, Parkinson’s disease, other neurological diseases and those recovering from strokes learn to swallow again.  But anyone can have a little difficulty taking pills at one time or another, so it pays to remember a few tips.”

According to Lanciano, there are a few ways to make swallowing pills easier, such as:

  • Make sure you have plenty of water. If a pill gets stuck, you won’t be as likely to panic if you have enough water to keep your throat wet and get the medicine down.
  • Practice with a Tic Tac or small piece of candy or food to help overcome the fear of swallowing.
  • Turn your head to either side while swallowing, which can help.
  • Before cutting or crushing a pill, always check with a pharmacist. Some medicine is timed or extended-released.  Others have a coating that protects your digestive track.  Your pharmacist will know how to direct you.
  • Always read the labels. Most over-the-counter medicines have clear directions, such as “do not crush.”
  • Don’t be afraid to request an easier pill to swallow. Ask if your medicine comes in a capsule or liquid form.

A first-of-its-kind study published in the Annals of Family Medicine recommended two techniques that make swallowing pills easier:  the pop-bottle method and the lean-forward technique.

You can download illustrated instructions of the two swallowing techniques here.

“I prefer the lean-forward technique,” said Lanciano. “That’s the method people tell me works best for them, and more than 88 percent of participants in the study had substantially improved success after trying this.”

Lean-Forward Technique:

  1. Put the capsule on your tongue.
  2. Take a medium sip of water, but don’t swallow yet.
  3. Bend your head forward by tilting your chin slightly toward your chest.
  4. Swallow the water and capsule with your head bent forward.

If you continue to have chronic problems with dysphagia, or swallowing medication, tell your doctor, who can arrange for a swallowing evaluation and any necessary treatment.

“We’re here to help because medicine is too important to miss,” Lanciano said.