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Tips for Swallowing Pills

By Janie Rosman

(Page 2 of 3)  

Consider the importance of the pill that is causing difficulty. “Often, when I talk to patients, the problem is large vitamins, and so we have a discussion about the benefit of the vitamin versus the risk of choking on it,” Pryor says. “One can sometimes take two smaller mg pills of the same dosage instead of one large pill — for example, 500 mg of calcium (a large pill).” Many vitamins come in liquid and chewable forms. Alternatively, some pills with indentations can be halved half using a pill-cutter.

Pay attention to the underlying reason for difficulty in swallowing pills, dense solids, bread or other foods, or liquids — coughing, choking or sticking in the throat or chest area,  “Let your physician know, and pursue a medical work up for the problem,” Pryor says. “Some of these problems can signal a condition that needs to be treated, such as strictures and webs or diverticulae (pouches) that can develop in the throat or pharynx.”

Use a non-prescription, flavored spray, available over-the-counter, to ease discomfort. Sprayed on a pill, it creates a water-based barrier between it and the tongue/throat, preventing friction and the “stuck in the throat” sensation. It also prevents taste buds from coming into contact with bad-tasting pills. is an educational Web site developed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System — the nation’s third-largest, non-profit, secular healthcare system, and its 16th largest integrated healthcare network — that offers material for health professionals, health practitioners and consumers, including adults and parents those who have difficulty swallowing pills.

While chewable pills, liquid formulations or beaded capsules (“sprinkled” on soft-consistency foods like applesauce) minimize the need for pill-form medication, some conditions require swallowing pills.

Each person can check to make sure his or her swallowing reflex is automatic and comfortable by swallowing an average-sized mouthful of water. If none spills, and there is no coughing, gagging, or vomiting, then try the following methods.

 Practice taking pills by starting with small “faux” pills like cake decorations — round candy balls in white so they look like medicine — and move to larger-sized decorations.


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