Swallowing medication can be difficult for some people. The following information may help you find solutions.
Causes and triggers
A number of factors can reduce a person's ability to swallow:
- A physical obstruction (e.g., a narrowing of the esophagus [the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach])
- Nerve or muscle disorders (e.g., muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease)
- Fear of choking (with no physical cause)
In some cases, several of these factors may be involved. Some medications can also make swallowing more difficult. For example, they may taste bad or be large in size.
Difficulty swallowing medications can affect your health in the following ways:
- You could get discouraged and miss doses. The effectiveness of the treatment may then be reduced.
- Your resistance to the medication may cause water to backtrack into your nose or even your lungs.
Technique for swallowing a tablet or capsule:
- Drink a bit of water to lubricate your throat.
- Tilt your head back slightly and place the tablet on the back of your tongue.
- Take a sip of water.
- Slowly lower your chin to swallow.
It might be easier for you to swallow the medication if your head is not in line with the rest of your body. Try to swallow your tablets with your head turned to one side or tilted forward or back. This will allow you to find the position that is most comfortable for you.
Some people may need a little practice. You can try swallowing small pieces of candy and gradually increasing their size. To do this, you'll need a variety of candies of different sizes. Here are a few examples of candy you can use, from smallest to largest:
- Cake sprinkles
- Tic Tacs or Skittles
- Smarties or M&M's
When should I see a health care professional?
Talk to your pharmacist if you have trouble swallowing your medication despite trying the tips mentioned above. They may do one of the following:
- Substitute your medication for a liquid form, chewable tablet, or suppository
- Change your treatment by giving you a medication that's easier to swallow or available in different forms
- Have a liquid preparation made especially for you
- Recommend that you swallow your tablets with soft food (e.g., yogurt or applesauce)
- Recommend that you cut or crush your tablets, or open your capsules