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You’ve Been Taking Pills Wrong Your Entire Life—Here’s How You Should Be Swallowing Them

It's a rare person who enjoys swallowing pills—and equally rare to find those who can toss a pill back easily and effortlessly without gulps of water and coughs. The transition from liquid medicine to pills, tablets, and capsules can be a rough one, and some of us still struggle well into our adult lives. Yet the reason your pills are getting caught in your throat may not be the medication's fault—it's all in how you swallow.

Why Pills Are a Problem

We all have our own crazy methods of getting ourselves to successfully take a pill: crushing them up and hiding them, flooding our mouths with water, leaning our heads back. Yet all of these different "styles" aren't exactly helping, according to scientists.

Researchers from both the Department of Clinical Pharmacology and Pharmacoepidemiology and the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Biopharmaceutics at the University of Heidelberg know that our pill-swallowing methods suck.

In fact, they found that one-third of pill takers can't swallow them at all, but instead gag, choke, or even throw up when attempting to do so. Rather than successfully self-administering medication, we tend to create blockages in our throats and make the process even more painful.

Image via Shutterstock

Instead of just dealing with it, the researchers suggest that different types and shapes of pills need their very own swallowing method—and they set out to discover exactly what techniques work best.

In their recent study, the researchers gave over 150 participants four varieties of pills to swallow—round, oval, oblong, and tablet—and asked which were most difficult to take. As you might expect, the larger and more awkwardly-shaped the pill, the worse participants did.

The Trick to Swallowing Tablets Better

In their hundreds of tests, the researchers devised two new methods intended to solve swallowing woes. For those tricky (and potentially gigantic) tablets, researchers offer the pop-bottle method. As the study and the Harvard Health Blog describe, the steps are as follows:

  1. Fill a plastic bottle with water, and before taking a sip, place the tablet directly on your tongue.
  2. Close your lips over the bottle's opening, covering the entire area. Make sure no air enters the bottle.
  3. Take a drink of water, sucking the liquid in and sending it and the pill down your throat at once.
Image via Annals of Family Medicine

When you use the pop-bottle method, you're using suction to force both the water and pill down your throat. Both are sucked down immediately, leaving no time for you to dread or feel uncomfortable about the process.

The Trick to Swallowing Capsules Better

If you're struggling to swallow a capsule instead, the researchers suggest applying the lean-forward technique, which requires these steps:

  1. Place the pill on your tongue, and take a drink of water, but do not swallow yet.
  2. Tilt your head downward so your chin is aimed at your chest.
  3. Once your head is bent, swallow both the capsule and the water.
Image via Annals of Family Medicine

With the lean-forward method, you're able to fight off the light weight of capsule pills. These types of pills are able to float when you put water in your mouth—but when you lean forward, they float right to the back of your throat, making swallowing easy.

Did These Tricks Work for You?

When these two new methods were used, researchers found that about 71 percent of the pill-hating participants reported experiencing less trouble. Participants in the study also reported swallowing pills quickly with these methods, and felt fewer scary throat blockages.

What is it that makes these methods work better than the ways we're used to? According to the researchers, tossing our pills down with our heads tilted back and mouths wide open can increase aspiration, leaving us gulping air and sticky, thick pills rather than smoothly swallowing. These two tricks prevent that.

Image via Shutterstock

Go ahead and give these techniques a try, and you might stop shuddering at the thought of swallowing a pill. Who knows, you might even become comfortable with it.

Cover images via Shutterstock (1, 2)

3 Comments

These would be alright, except I don't like putting them on my tongue due to the bad taste.

When I was small and needed to take medecine - hating pills, my dad gave me a bit of a banana to chew, and before swalowing, to put the pill in the mouth.

That way, its mass, shape and taste get easily masked by the banan.
If you still have a hard time with pills, then I hope this little trick might help you. :)

When I take pills, (I love taking them and they're easy for me to take them) I usually put the pill in my mouth on the back of my tongue, grab a water bottle or cup pr just lean over to the faucet, and just take a drink, not thinking about the pill at all. This helps me because it gets me in the "mindset" that all I'm doing is drinking water.

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