A lot of people have trouble with trying to swallow capsules, so you’re not alone. Whether it is life-saving medication you have to administer to a child, or you just want to be able to take your daily supplements with ease, don’t give up! The following techniques have proved very effective.
Problems with swallowing capsules or tablets are usually caused by a negative association with medication or pill swallowing. This anxiety causes the throat to tense up and either the pill gets stuck in your throat, or it won’t go down at all.
You may be intimidated by the large size of some capsules. But the throat is designed to swallow things much larger than any pill or capsule. The oesophagus (food pipe) is flexible and can open up to accommodate quite large objects.
Though it seems easy and natural to swallow a large mouthful of food, a small pill can cause great anxiety and difficulty for many people. This is partly psychological, and partly because the process of chewing food produces saliva that helps it go down.
Swallowing with your head in different positions
The following techniques can be used with any kind of capsule or pill and are designed to relax the throat and open it up to allow easier swallowing.
This video demonstrates a series of techniques that can be practised over a few weeks with great results. For many people the results are much quicker. The main idea is learning swallow with your head in different positions or using different movements of the head. Which position works best varies from person to person and may even change for you over time.
If you don’t have time to watch the whole video (we recommend you do), the essential information on each position and the possible pitfalls is between 4:15–7:09 minutes.
Practise with sweets
It might take a bit of practice and experimentation, especially with children, and if there is trauma associated with swallowing medication. You can practice with sweets, for example tic tacs or M&Ms. Use hard, heavy sweets, not chewy or light ones. If you can find something that’s close to the shape and size of the pill you’re having trouble swallowing, even better.
Or you can start with something very small and work your way up.
How to practise the swallowing capsules technique
It might seem that having your head centred is the most obvious and instinctive way to swallow tablets or capsules, but some people actually find that turning their head to one side to swallow helps open up the oesophagus. Other positions to try are tilting the head back, tilting the head down, or gently shaking the head from side to side while you swallow. This is called the ‘duck shake’, and can help relax your throat. The duck shake is especially helpful for small children, and turns it into a game (if eating sweets isn’t enough of an incentive!).
1. Start with a glass of water and practise swallowing just water.
Go through the five positions (straight, right, left, up, down) as many times as you like, until you have an idea which one might be most comfortable for you. It’s important to get the water into your mouth with your head in a central position, then assume the position you want to try before swallowing.
2. Then you can try it with your chosen sweets.
Practice swallowing in each position in turn, and note down on a scale of one to five how each one felt. Be sure to get some water into your mouth before placing the object on the back of your tongue.
3. Try all five positions each day for up to two weeks.
Note down which one was more comfortable each time. What feels the best at first may not be what feels most comfortable in the long run.
- Too much water? If you have a really big mouthful of water, this might make swallowing more of an effort and make it harder to control the pill.
- Dry throat – try swallowing a small mouthful of water before practising the technique.
- Posture is important – your shoulders should be square. It might be easier to do it standing up.
- Still not able to find a comfortable position? Try doing the ‘duck shake’ before assuming each position. This can help to relax the throat.
Even some people that haven’t previously had problems swallowing pills find this method makes it easier.