Many people have difficulty swallowing pills or even find themselves unable to do so. While some medications are available in other forms, many are not.

Is it possible to learn how to swallow pills? Are there tricks with using water, head position, etc that make it easier?

  • I started by putting the pill in an amorphous solid like pudding, jello, yogurt, etc
    – JacobIRR
    Feb 8 '18 at 3:02

If you are able to swallow pills but find it difficult, the following tips will help:

  • take a sip of water before putting the pill in your mouth, and drink more water after putting the pill in as well
  • do not lift your chin up as you try to swallow - this actually makes it harder. If anything, push your chin down into your chest a little while swallowing (called the "lean forward method" in this article, which has other tips as well.)
  • if you are cutting the pill to swallow two small halves, try not doing that - the rough edges of a cut pill add to the difficulty substantially. You may not believe the larger whole pill will be easier to swallow, but it often is
  • ask your pharmacist if you can dissolve the pill in water or mix it in with applesauce or pudding

If you cannot swallow pills at all, you can learn to do so. (This literature review found 5 studies that all showed children can be taught to swallow pills.) Here is what worked for me. Start by buying some candy that mimics pill shape. Skittles, M&Ms, or the like are good choices - they have a slightly hard and slippery coating that makes it easier. M & M's have a "mini" that is very small and a good one to start with. Choose a candy you like to eat. If you're trying to swallow it and failing, you can always just chew it. (For a small child, I had great success with putting out 5 candies and saying "once you swallow one whole, the rest are yours to chew.")

Every day, try to swallow one of these candies using the tips above. When you can consistently swallow one mini at will, try moving up to the regular size M & M or Skittles. If you can do this then you can take the majority of pills, though ones without a smooth coating will be more difficult. Painkillers like Advil and Tylenol all come in a coated version that is easier to swallow. Many prescription pills are smaller than an M&M or a Skittle, so you will have won most of the battle at this point.

If you have a large pill that you need to take, you can work your way up to it by practicing with vitamins, which come in a variety of sizes and are safe to take every day. Once you have learned to take a large pill, the skill will stay with you and be useful for decades to come.

  • 2
    Your first tip is exactly how I've swallowed pills since I was a child. I've never seen anyone else do so and I always found that strange since it makes it much easier.
    – Carey Gregory
    Feb 1 '18 at 22:35
  • Number 2 did it for me the first time. Swallowing is easy now. But these advil m's are so big hey seem to be bruising my esophagus.
    – Jonathon
    Feb 2 '18 at 6:21

As a Registered nurse for 44 years, I have "taught" many people how to get pills down without gagging. The key to success is the type of "pill".

A capsule is medication a gelatinous shell. Capsules float. Put the capsule in your mouth, take drink of water, lean forward and swallow. The capsule will float to the back of the mouth and slide down without any difficulty. Have additional water available in a cup/glass with a straw. If necessary take additional drinks of water through the straw while you are still leaning forward.

A pill can be any shape- including a capsule shape- but these are medications that are compressed into the shape you see. Some of them might have a coating to affect the rate of absorption or where the medication in released in the gastrointestinal tract.

Pills sink. Place the pill in your mouth, take a drink of water, then tilt your head backwards and swallow. Have additional water available in a cup/glass with a straw. If necessary take additional drinks of water through the straw while your head is tilted back.

NEVER cut a medication without your pharmacist or physicians' approval

  • 1
    Welcome to HealthSE! This may be correct – or not. Nobody knows because this is lacking references. Please take the tour and read the help center. To improve your answer please edit it and backup your statements with reliable references. Having said the boilerplate: nice addition. If you find a reference for this (perhaps float/sink behaviour differences?) it will be upvoted. Feb 7 '18 at 20:59
  • It is my experience that floating and sinking are not particularly strong forces in this case. Tilting your chin up stretches and constricts your throat and makes it harder to swallow anything, even spit. Try it yourself right now. Feb 7 '18 at 21:43

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