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Things to do if you can’t swallow pills?

What are the best ways to swallow a pill? Whatever you do, do not cut your tablet or capsule into smaller pieces unless your doctor or pharmacist has said you can. This is because some medications are designed to dissolve slowly at a fixed rate. Therefore, by cutting the meds into smaller pieces you are potentially giving yourself an overdose. Always take the advice of a professional.

Fortunately, because so many people have trouble swallowing medications, there are many ways to overcome this problem. Sometimes, you can use methods to change how you swallow,  while other methods use a lubricant or appliance to help. So, let’s look at a few of these, shall we?

Use a Medication straw

We all know what a drinking straw is and how it works. But, did you know that using one can help you swallow difficult pills?  Simply,  pop your meds in your mouth and suck up some liquid through the straw to wash it down.

You see, the reflex sucking action assists with swallowing the meds. You can buy a reusable collapsible stainless steel straw, complete with silicon mouthpieces, cleaning brush, carrying case and carabiner clip.

Alternatively, you can buy cheaper multi-use silicone straws, designed to be used again and again and washed out like normal crockery. This means, you will always have your drinking straw with you and you’re doing your bit for the environment by not using disposable ones.

Use a gel, spray or lubricant

Often, the reason for not being able to swallow is simply because your mouth is dry and you can’t make enough saliva.

  • Coat the pill with a lubricating gel. You can easily buy these online or from a pharmacist.
  • Use a spray-on lubricant. You don’t spray this on the pill. Instead, spray into your open mouth before taking the meds.
  • Drink plenty of water. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t use water correctly while swallowing. Before inserting the pill in your mouth, take a couple of sips of water to thoroughly moisten your mouth and throat. Pop in the pill, then take a mouthful and swallow.

Use a pill-swallowing cup

Many pharmacies sell these as they work very well. They consist of a cup with a sealed lid and an extended spout projecting from the lid towards the back of the mouth. These shouldn’t be used if the user has dysphagia as there is a risk of choking.

Pop bottle Method

This is a simple method and uses a plastic water bottle with a narrow opening. First, place the pill on your tongue. Next, bring the water bottle to the mouth and close your lips around its opening. Finally, suck the water out of the bottle without letting any air into the bottle.

This method works well if you take tablets but not so good if you take capsules. Capsules, being hollow and lighter than water tend to float to the roof of the mouth rather than down the throat.

Reasons why you can’t swallow pills

Many people have difficulty swallowing tablets or capsules, so you’re not alone. This problem has various causes, and include:

A dry mouth. This condition might have many causes. You might be taking certain medications; sleeping with your mouth open due to a blocked nose or lack of pillows.

Anxiety can cause a dry mouth; cancer treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy; diabetes; or you might just be very dehydrated. The remedy for this depends on the cause. If the condition has a medical cause, it’s best to see a doctor.

Fear of choking. This is an automatic reflex with some people. The fear makes your throat tense and narrow, thus making pills very difficult to swallow.

General swallowing problems. This is known as dysphagia and is very common after having a stroke or certain types of cancer.

What other ways help to swallow pills more easily?

Lean your head forward

Hold your chin up, with shoulders back and place the pill on your tongue. Take a medium-sized sip of water and quickly tilt your head forward as you swallow. This method relies on making you think of something else while swallowing.

Bury a tablet in food

You can trick your brain into taking your medication by burying it in a teaspoon of apple sauce, pudding or some other type of soft food. Alternatively, chew some bread until it is soft and moist. Put the pill into your mouth. Mix it with the chewed bread and swallow.

Remember, sometimes you must not take certain pills with food. So, before trying this method, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you can take the medication with food.

Use saliva

Sometimes, if you’re away from home, you may not have anything to help lubricate your mouth. If it helps, try to work up some saliva in your mouth to swallow along with the meds.

In many cases, we don’t recommend this method. This is because, in general, tablets need water to help break them down and to help carry them down the esophagus to the stomach. But if you have no other option, it’s better than skipping a dose.

Can you cut or crush tablets?

Before we recommend ways to do this, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether it’s okay to cut or crush your medication. Some tablets and capsules rely on being able to dissolve slowly to dispense the correct dose.

If you cut the tablet into pieces, you are increasing the surface area in contact with your stomach acid and allowing the drug to be released much quicker. This may cause overdose and other severe complications. Before you crush any tablet always check if its safe to do it.

Let’s assume your medication is safe to cut or crush.

Mortar and pestle

A mortar is a heavy stone bowl with a smooth internal surface. Place the tablet into the bowl and crush using the heavy stone pestle (it’s a bit like a stone rod of about 1 to 2 inches diameter. The pestle has a rounded end). After crushing the pill,  you end up with a powder that you can easily add to food.

Use a Pill crusher

A pill crusher operates similarly to a pepper or salt grinder. Place the pill in the receptacle, turn the handle and the pill turns into a powder. There are even electric pill smashers made especially for people with weak hands. For more, you should check crushers for seniors article.

Use a Pill splitter

Many pills are meant to be broken in half, but often a senior hasn’t got the strength or dexterity to do this. Pill cutters are useful and very simple to use. They usually consist of a small box with a hinged lid. Place the pill in a specific place inside the lower half of the box, so to be in line with a cutter blade in the lid. Close the lid and the blade safely cuts the pill into two halves.

Whats next? Warning

Before using any of these methods, remember that some prescription drugs have very specific dispensing instructions. You must take some whole, some with plenty of water and some without food. There are some medications that should not be crushed (check the list). Ask a doctor or pharmacist which swallowing method they would recommend, and which methods you must not use.

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