The 3 Week Diet

Medication for Those Who Can't Swallow Pills

Swallowing a solid object without chewing it is naturally alien to our bodies and it can lead to a gag reflex, which can be unpleasant and uncomfortable to the patient. There is no one sure fire way of curing the problem, although there are a number of things people who can’t swallow pills can try to make their lives easier.

The first thing to consider is whether you actually need to take a pill for your medication. Many common medicines are available in liquid or powder form, or even as suppository forms. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist in the first instance and find out whether there is an alternative form of the medicine available so you don’t have to deal with tablets and capsules. If this is not possible, then there are some behaviours and techniques you can try to make swallowing pills easier on you.

Medicine Drug Pills on Plate

Medicine Drug Pills on Plate (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Crushing pills is to be avoided at all costs and chewing them is not recommended either. Many tablets are coated in a substance that stops the active ingredient from being released until it reaches the small bowel. If you chew or crush the pill, you could end up stopping it from working or causing yourself pain or discomfort as the medicine is released into your stomach instead. Other types of pills may be time released or long release, so by chewing them or crushing them you will be stopping them from doing their jobs. For the same reasons, regular pills should never be used as suppositories or inhaled through the nose and the firm rule is never to deviate from the given instructions for taking your medicine unless you have specific instructions from a medical professional to the contrary.

If you have a long history of struggling to swallow your pills, then you may need to retrain your body and mind into accepting the tablet as you swallow it. Try starting with small sweets or small bites of food and swallow them down with a sip of water to simulate pill taking. Sometimes it is more the thought of taking the pill than the actual method of swallowing it that causes the problems you are having. A psychological block can cause your throat to tense up and contract, making pill taking difficult and uncomfortable, so using practice foods can help to retrain your brain and body responses to think of the pill as ‘food’ rather than medicine.

If you think you have managed to get the practice foods down to a fine art, you could try embedding your pill in a piece of food to kid your mind into believing it is a foodstuff. Check with your pharmacist or doctor before trying this though, as some medicines can be affected by certain types of foods.

For some people, the dry mouth you get when you think about swallowing a pill can add to the discomfort experienced when trying to take a pill. Ensure you have a drink immediately before taking your pill to lubricate your throat and if taking the pill with water is not working for you, try using a carbonated drink such as fizzy water or lemonade instead. You can try sipping this drink straight from the bottle to help stimulate the swallowing reflex and open up your throat. If you still find the pill is painful to swallow, ask your pharmacist for a spray anaesthetic, usually administered for a sore throat, to numb the area prior to taking your pill.

The actual swallowing technique for taking your pill can also be modified to make your life easier. Try placing the pill in different areas of the tongue to find out where it is easiest for you. If you are placing the pill at the back of your tongue, make sure you tilt your head forwards and your chin down to encourage the best swallowing action. If you prefer to have the pill at the tip of your tongue, tilt you head right back before you swallow to open up your throat. Many people think there is a strong link between panic or feelings of fear and the feeling that you cant swallow pills, so make sure you try to relax, take a deep breath and stay calm throughout.

swallow pills

There can be deep seated psychological fears linked to the feeling that you cant swallow pills. Try to approach your pill taking with a positive mental attitude. Visualise the pill slipping down easily and tell yourself you can swallow this pill. It could be that you had a bad experience as a young person that has led to your fear, such as choking on a sweet or being forced to take a tablet when you were young. If you think you might have some serious mental blocks to pill taking it might be worth booking some time with a counsellor to address these issues.

For most people there are no physiological blocks to pill taking. It is surprising how powerful the mind can be and although you might think you physically cant swallow pills because your throat doesn’t work properly or you have an unusually strong gag reflex, chances are there is no medical reason you shouldn’t be able to get them down. For a very small minority of people, there can be disorders of the oesophagus, which can make swallowing pills very difficult and uncomfortable, but for most people, if you can swallow your food normally then there your throat is probably normal.

Whatever you do, don’t hesitate to talk to your health care provider about the problems you have been having. They won’t think you are being childish for thinking you cant swallow pills and they have probably dealt with many other people who are experiencing the same type of problems as you. They may be able to suggest other techniques or solutions to your issues, or may be able to look at alternative ways to provide your medication using smaller pills, liquids or other forms of medicines.

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