When you can swallow capsules, tablets and pills, it’s a skill for life! It helps you to help take medications and food supplements easily without a fuss. However, many people struggle to master pill swallowing, and this article is to help you or your family with some of my top tips.
Very co-ordinated children can learn to swallow pills from about five years old, and most other kids are able to do this from about seven years old. However, many older kids and adults still find it tricky, and this can be due to a number of reasons such as fear of choking, poor co-ordination, reflux or eosinophilic oesophageal conditions, an overzealous gag reflex, overall difficulty swallowing… or simply not having the right technique.
If a child is a bit reluctant to even try to swallow a capsule, I always ask if they can swallow a raisin, a mint or even a little “tic tac” type sweet and they usually light up, grin and say that they would find this a total cinch!
Here are my other top tips:
- Begin to teach pill swallowing when you are not in a rush or overtired. If it is a pill to be taken in the morning, start at the weekend when you have more time and at the start of breakfast.
- Start small with a tiny capsule rather than a dry chalky tablet – often probiotics and some minerals such as zinc or selenium or oily caplets such as fish oil work well at the start, as they tend to be quite small and slide down well.
- Stand upright or sit up straight – it is very hard to swallow tablets when lying down.
- Have a sip of water or liquid first to wet the tongue.
- Pop the capsule towards the back of the tongue just below the uvula (the dangly bit hanging down at the back of your mouth).
- Drink from a wide necked water bottle or a water glass of cold or room temperature liquid to swish the pill down. Avoid water bottles with straws which have a much narrower jet of water that may miss the pill.
- You may need up to five gulps of water to swallow one capsule to begin with, so don’t give up!
- If the capsule is a bit dry, try coating it in some olive oil, or mixing it in hummus, fruit puree, smoothie or the best is probably yoghurt. Capsules just disappear in yoghurt.
- Older kids and adults can try the “lean-forward method”. This way you place a capsule on your tongue and take a sip of water but don’t swallow. Lean forward toward your chest and then swallow the water and capsule with your head in the bent position.
- Stay upright for a few minutes afterwards to ensure it has gone all the way down. Maybe have a gulp of water to chase it down.
- If you feel the pill is stuck in your throat, chase with a spoonful or two of yoghurt, fruit puree, smoothie or a small handful of nut/seeds or fruit/crunchy veg sticks to ensure it goes down the oesophagus into the stomach.
If all else fails…
In our clinic we find that some people who struggle to swallow capsules are chronically low in their magnesium intake, and that once they have been taking extra magnesium (e.g. by powder) for a couple of months, they find it easier to swallow tablets and capsules
If pill swallowing is still not coming naturally, remember that with most food supplements you can open up the capsules and mix the contents into a few spoons of smoothie, fruit puree, yoghurt, hummus, jam or honey – the thicker the medium the better. Check out one of my most popular blogs 10 Cunning Ways To Hide Kids’ Daily Vitamins if you are still struggling!
Please can you recommend a magnesium powder? My daughter find swallowing pills impossible but has terrible anxiety so a magnesium powder might be helpful. Thanks
Hi Caroline, The Metabolics Magnesium Bisglycinate is great. You can open up the capsules. I have just added that to Lucinda’s recommendations above.