Difficulty Swallowing Pills

You have a problem swallowing pills? Not to worry, many people do, and it's fixable. A general problem with difficulty swallowing is more serious, and we can't help you here. But for the pill problem, read on.

Your esophagus is a soft tube that goes from throat to stomach, and it easily takes a lump of partially-chewed food bigger than any pill you'll ever need to swallow. So why are pills a problem? Well, it's mostly a learned thing. Maybe you tried as a kid and had a bad experience, so you clench unconsciously ever since, and that clenching perpetuates the difficulty swallowing pills.

Certainly, we've all had the occasional problem of accidentally swallowing something "sideways", and it feels like a lump that is wedged in your lower throat. You try washing it down with water, you try swallowing some more food to push it down. You try various contortions of head and neck while gulping and grimacing... and the lump is still there.

It's probably not actually food by that point. Most likely the food went down, but you have a lingering spasm in one section of the esophagus. Feels like a lump. Might hurt when you swallow.

What About the Pills?

Pills are hard, but they mostly aren't very big. When one of us was busily trying all sorts of vitamins and supplements, it wasn't uncommon for him to pop in a dozen pills at once. Yes... including some hefty lozenge-style pills. The trick that worked for him was to swallow the water, not the pills.

People who are nervous about swallowing pills obsess about the pills, especially while they're in the act of swallowing. So, change things around.

Place the pill (or pills... but if you've been having problems, start with one) at the back of the tongue. Not so far back that you feel like gagging, but closer to the back than to the front. Now smoothly swallow a big gulp of water. Don't even think about the pill, just swallow the water - the water will carry the pill.

The problem happens when you obsess about feeling the pill... where it is, what direction it is pointing... never mind. Just swallow the water and ignore the pill. With a hefty glug of water, you should not even feel the pill. And then it's gone. No unpleasantness, just a smooth swallow. Effortless.

Any Other Tricks?

Funny you should ask.
Yes, try turning your head in a different direction.

If you normally try to swallow a pill while facing forward, change that.

Maximize your chances by standing erect, not sitting.

Get your shoulders back - one of the reasons some people give themselves difficulty swallowing pills is that they have poor posture while doing it, which puts a bend and constriction near the top of the esophagus.

Place the pill, and take a big (but not gigantic) mouthful of water - without swallowing.

Turn your head to the right, or to the left.

NOW swallow the water and the pill.

You'll probably hear an 'unk' sound in your throat, or possibly a quick 'yerg', and it'll be gone.

You are not trying to crank your head to some extreme twist, or to re-visit a scene from The Exorcist. Just turn comfortably to one side or the other before you swallow.

Or, if your normal approach is face-front, try doing what we just described, but tipping your head up before the swallow, and pushing your chin ahead. This maximizes the extension and openness of your throat and esophagus.

Some people even prefer to swallow a pill with their heads tipped down a little. To each his own, we suppose.

Try a few times, and eventually you'll settle on a direction that works for you.

Other Random Stuff

Here are a few more stray things you can try, to alleviate difficulty swallowing pills.

Some people like really cold water for pill-taking.

Some people find that warm is better, and chilled water makes their throat tighter. It's very individual.

Use a different liquid, like juice. We don't recommend carbonated beverages for this purpose, since the bite can cause a momentary constriction of the throat at just the moment you least want that to happen. As for beer.... well, if you must, but we think that's almost a sacrilege if the beer is any good.

Milk might work for some (mmmmm chocolate milk).

And, approach the task with confidence. In this situation, apprehension is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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