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.
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.
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.
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:
- Fill a plastic bottle with water, and before taking a sip, place the tablet directly on your tongue.
- Close your lips over the bottle's opening, covering the entire area. Make sure no air enters the bottle.
- Take a drink of water, sucking the liquid in and sending it and the pill down your throat at once.
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.
If you're struggling to swallow a capsule instead, the researchers suggest applying the lean-forward technique, which requires these steps:
- Place the pill on your tongue, and take a drink of water, but do not swallow yet.
- Tilt your head downward so your chin is aimed at your chest.
- Once your head is bent, swallow both the capsule and the water.
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.
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.
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.