Health Encyclopedia

Pills: Make Them Go Down Easy

Cricopharyngeus — that's a tough word to pronounce. It's even tougher when you have a pill stuck in your throat.

Nonetheless, that's the name of the spot where the pill tends to get stuck. The cricopharyngeus is the ring-like muscle at the top of the esophagus. Some children and adults have difficulty swallowing pills without letting them get marooned in that uncomfortable location.

When you swallow food, the epiglottis — the flexible cartilage at the root of your tongue — folds across your voice box. That keeps the food from traveling down your windpipe to your lungs. Instead, the food goes down your esophagus and moves to your stomach.

But pills don't always go down as easily as food. When tablets get stuck, they often fail to make it past the cricopharyngeus.

Here's how to keep them sliding down:

Get wet

Lots of liquid — preferably water — is the key to swallowing a pill. Wet your whistle first, put the pill on the back of your tongue, swallow quickly, and follow up with more water, up to 8 ounces or a full glass of water. A well-lubricated throat is a better passageway for a pill, and the preliminary swallowing action gets the epiglottis out of the way.

Lubricate

Taking your medication with applesauce is another idea unless it needs to be taken on an empty stomach. This may help your swallowing muscles work better to get the pills down. 

Break it up

You can crush or divide many over-the-counter and prescription medications and sprinkle them on food. You can purchase a pill-crusher to do the work for you, or use 2 spoons. Always ask your pharmacist if the medication can be crushed, because long-acting or slow-release prescriptions will be inactivated when crushed.

If a pill does get stuck, never let it stay there to dissolve.

Many medications will irritate your throat. A glass of water should dislodge even the stickiest capsule. Eating some food after swallowing a pill insures that it goes down — unless the pill is supposed to be taken on an empty stomach.

If these ideas do not work, be certain to talk to your doctor. There may be another medication that is easier to swallow. 

Tilt your head forward

Tipping your chin toward your chest can make the process of swallowing more effective. 

Many people have trouble swallowing pills and so don't take their medications or take them less often. If these ideas do not work, be certain to talk to your doctor. There may be another medication or type of dose that is easier to swallow. 

 



Medical Reviewers:

  • Russell, Nikki, RN, BSN
  • Stock, Christopher J., PharmD, BCPP