So You Think You Can’t Swallow Pills

Up to 1 in 3 people just can't swallow pills (tablets or capsules). And it's not just kids. Adults may never have learned the skill or have developed swallowing troubles. This is a problem because it can limit medication choices. Some types of medication are only available as a pill that can't be crushed or broken open.

The good news is that with a bit of training AND practice, you or your child can learn to swallow pills. First find a technique that seems to work best and then practice it with small candies such as Tic Tacs. Sometimes you might have to start with smaller candies and slowly work up to larger ones. But be sure smaller candies are easily swallowed before moving to larger ones.

Find which of the following methods works best for you or your child.
  • Try different head positions...tipped down…turned to the left...turned to the right. Put the pill or candy on the back of the tongue or get it there by tipping the head up and shaking it back and forth, take a sip of water, move the head into position, and swallow.

    If you're having trouble, check out these helpful training videos at http://www.research4kids.ucalgary.ca/pillswallowing

  • Try swallowing water through a straw. Put the pill or candy on the back of the tongue, suck in a mouthful of water, and swallow.


  • Try using a plastic water bottle. Put the pill or candy on the back of the tongue, seal lips around the bottle opening, suck in a mouthful of water, and swallow. When it's done correctly, the bottle will crunch in as the water is sucked out.
Practice the methods to find one that works for you or your child, and then practice it some more. As with anything, practice makes perfect!

Keep in mind that the technique that works best for one pill may not work best for another. For example, tipping the head down may work best with capsules, but the plastic water bottle technique may work best with tablets.

If these tips don't work, don't give up. Talk to your pharmacist. They can direct you to products that help pills slide down easier (Pill Glide, etc) or special swallowing cups that may do the trick.

If pills still won't go down, don't worry. Your pharmacist can work with the doctor to find a pill that can be broken open or crushed or a medication that comes in a different form such as a liquid or a dissolving pill.

[This handout may not cover all possible information. It does not replace the need for professional medical care. Always follow the instructions from your health care provider.]

[December 2014]

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