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How to swallow a pill: Tips and techniques

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TipsFear of swallowingDo not crushSummary
Pills can come in different sizes, and sometimes, they can be difficult to swallow. Drinking extra water, keeping upright, or using specially made products that make pills more slippery can help.
Medically reviewed by Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
Written by Faye Stewart
Updated on

Most of us will take daily pills at some point, but getting them to go down smoothly can be difficult, especially if you’re taking multiple medications.

“Difficulty swallowing pills can happen for several reasons,” said Alyssa Wozniak, PharmD, a clinical assistant professor at D’Youville School of Pharmacy in Buffalo, New York. Dry mouth, fear of swallowing tablets, or medical illnesses such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease can all play a role.

“Certain medications can irritate the esophagus,” explained Wozniak. “And if you have this feeling often, especially if you have trouble swallowing things other than pills, it is important to seek medical attention to rule out conditions that could be causing this.”

Tips for swallowing pills

Adult male holding a glass of water and raising a pill to his lips after looking for information on how to swallow a pill
andreswd/Getty Images

Here, we look at some tips that may make taking your oral medications a little easier.

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For some people, it’s helpful to avoid taking pills right before going to bed.

“Laying down can sometimes lead to feeling like the pill is stuck,” said Wozniak. But in most cases, you can wash a stuck pill down with more water.”

The inability to swallow can cause frustration and fear, especially if a pill becomes stuck in your throat.

In rare cases, if a pill remains lodged, you may need to visit the emergency room. However, plenty of water, alongside its dissolving effects on the medication, should soon mean the pill moves along.

Sip water before swallowing

You probably already drink water to wash down the pill, which is great, so keep doing that. But to make it even easier, you can add in an extra step — drink before you introduce the pill.

“Wetting your mouth and throat stops pills from getting stuck due to dryness,” noted Wozniak. “And drinking after you swallow the pill also prevents it from getting stuck in your throat.”

It’s also best to stick to water. Wozniak continued: “Other drinks, such as dairy or fruit juices, can interact with some medications.”

The “pop bottle” and “lean forward” methods

A 2018 study evaluated two pill-swallowing techniques: the “pop bottle” and the “lean forward” methods. These techniques improved swallowing in 88.6% and 59.7% of study participants, respectively.

“To try the bottle method, first place the pill on your tongue,” explained Wozniak. “Close your lips tightly around a water bottle, and then suck as you tilt your head back. Don’t let air into the bottle,” said Wozniak. You should feel the plastic collapse as the contents drain.

For the lean-forward method, which is better for capsules, start by sitting or standing with your chin up and shoulders back. “Place the capsule in your mouth, then take a sip of water and quickly tilt your head forward while swallowing,” explained Wozniak. “That moves the pill toward the back of your throat and takes your mind off swallowing.”

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Gels and sprays

Products are available to help you swallow your medications smoothly.

Gels coat pills to make them more slippery. “They may also improve the taste of certain medications or limit the ability to feel the pill sliding down your throat,” Wozniak said. Phazix Pill Swallowing Gel is one of the products to look for at a pharmacy.

Sprays, on the other hand, work on your throat directly. “When a spray is released into the back of the mouth and throat, it can lubricate the oral passage and mask unpleasant taste,” noted Wozniak. Pill Glide Swallowing Spray is an example you might find useful.

Regardless of your chosen product, Wozniak recommends speaking with a doctor or pharmacist first. You want to be sure it won’t interact with your medication or health condition.


Swallowing a pill is a skill, and it’s one that a child can learn.

“Your child can practice with something small, such as a sprinkle,” explained Wozniak. “Have the child place the ‘pill’ on their tongue and take a drink to wash it down their throat.” Then, you can increase the size to a miniature chocolate chip or candy, like a Tic Tac.

Children can also try the pop bottle method outlined above, or they can place the pill on their tongue and drink with a straw. “If those techniques don’t work, have the child take a drink, hold the water in their mouth, and tilt their head back. Then place the pill in their mouth and have them swallow it all in one gulp,” said Wozniak.

What is the fear of swallowing called?

In rare cases, people may have a fear of swallowing or choking. This is called phagophobia.

Phagophobia can become so intense for some people that they may avoid eating and drinking, including taking oral medications.

As this phobia is so rare, there is no specific treatment advice, but experts generally agree that behavioral therapy is effective for this anxiety disorder.

Medications not to crush

If you find smaller oral tablets easier to swallow, you may wish to cut or crush larger ones for ease. You can also consider opening capsules and emptying the contents into a drink or directly into your mouth.

However, before doing this, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional and read the medication’s package inserts. Some medications can become less effective if cut or crushed, while others may cause harm without their protective capsule or coating.

There is an extensive list of medications that are not suitable for crushing, cutting, or opening. If you are in any doubt, speak with a healthcare team for advice.


It might feel frustrating to learn a seemingly simple skill, like swallowing a pill, but it can cause difficulty for some people.

There are different techniques to try, including changes to body positioning, and some over-the-counter products can help lubricant pills for an easier swallowing experience.

Although some swallowing techniques may not always feel natural, once you find a method that works, you can take your medications comfortably.

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