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Having Trouble Swallowing That Pill? Experts Share The Best Techniques To Avoid Choking

taking pills or medicine
CC0 Public Domain / FAQ

Many people struggle with taking pills and completing courses of medication because of discomfort with swallowing. To help find a solution, researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany gave 151 adult volunteers chalky tablets and capsules to discover the safest and easiest ways swallow them. Their results, published last month in the Annals of Family Medicine, showed that chalky tablets go down the easiest using the pop-bottle method. For this technique, you place the pill in your mouth and then immediately suck in liquid from a plastic bottle, keeping your lips tightly closed around it.

For capsules, the study recommends the lean-forward method: Place the capsule on your tongue, take a sip of water into your mouth and immediately lean your head forward, tilting your chin toward your chest.

If those two techniques seem daunting, don't be alarmed, says Dr. Ella Bowman, M.D., a geriatrician who directs the acute care for elders consult service at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis, Indiana. Instead, follow this simple advice: Swallow one pill at a time, use a cool beverage, and if your doctor or pharmacist okays crushing the pills, take it mixed into your food. Most importantly, Bowman says: ”Don’t talk laugh eat, chew gum, or do multiple tasks while you take your medicine. Pay attention to what you are doing.”

For more insights on the science of swallowing, listen to this Sound Medicine radio interview with Bowman from reporter Jill Ditmire.