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What to Do if You Have Trouble Swallowing Pills

Q: I've never been able to swallow pills. Every time I try, I end up gagging. My doctor just gave me a new prescription and there is no chewable option. I feel so anxious every time I try to take one that it's actually making me gag even more! Are there any tricks that can help?

Dr. Donnica:
First of all, rest assured that you are not alone! There are as many tips as there are people who have, and have overcome, this problem. Your anxiety about the situation is only making it worse. Have you discussed this problem with your doctor or pharmacist? While the new prescription may not come in a chewable form, it may come in a suppository, liquid, powder, sprinkle, sublingual, nasal spray, injectable, or patch form. There may be another medication that is similar, would work just as well for your problem, and comes in an alternate dosing form. Your pharmacist may be able to prepare a special formulation for you.

Accept that swallowing pills is a skill that takes practice. It's not natural for our bodies to swallow a solid substance without chewing it first. You may want to practice with a small, benign pill substitute like mini-M & M's, then work up to regular sized M & M's. Another option might be to embed the pill in some form of food (e.g. Jell-O or ice cream) and swallow both together. Try having some water in your mouth first and then inserting and swallowing the pill. Alternately, chew 2-3 crackers and then try swallowing the pill. Some people recommend sipping a cold, carbonated beverage straight from the bottle or can when swallowing a pill. Others have found success by spraying an over-the-counter topical anesthetic such as Chloraseptic® before trying to swallow a pill. And finally, try placing the pill on the back of your tongue, drinking some water, tilting your chin down toward your chest, and then trying to swallow. Good luck!

Created: 8/8/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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