Tutorial: How to Swallow a Pill

The reality struck me hard this morning: many people are still having a hard time swallowing pills.

It’s remarkable to think of the basic tasks of life many people have yet to master. This is one of them.

You will be sitting in a restaurant and at the start of a meal, a lady at the next table will take out her pill box and put one in her mouth. What follows is excruciating. Gulps of water and then the crazed head toss, again and again, flinging the head backwards in jerky motions as if this will cause the pill to go down. Sometimes it manages its way down, and yet there are special occasions when it does not work, and the woman coughs it back up in to her hand.

We’ve all seen this and winced because we know what is next: another attempt, and another attempt. Just to watch this take place causes our own throats to tighten, and strange things to happen to our appetites.

Clearly, something has to be done to get this matter under some control, but it turns out that the online advice one gets on this subject is uniformly vague or bad. One site — I’ll not link it because it is too humiliating for the blogger — actually recommends putting the pill on the tip of the tongue and flinging the head around. Obviously, this is no help.

The worst result of not mastering this task is to get a dry pill stuck deep in your throat. You cough and cough, even convulse to the point of absurdity. If you go to bed with a pill such as an aspirin or an ibuprofen stuck in your throat, the darn thing will bore a hole right through. You will be sick as a dog for days, and no amount of antacid will cure it. Coffee will feel like a cruel acid, and even soft foods will feel like they are ripping at your esophagus.

Follow this advice and you will never have a hard time again.

The key is how you think about it. The pill is not a unique good, a special something that behaves differently from any other things you swallow. Yes, it can be a bit harder but it is about the same size as many foods we eat routinely. We eat hotdogs and chew them only here and there and down the hatch they go. Same with steak. We chew a bit, mash it around somewhat, and down it goes. Same with biscuits, rolls, sausage, chocolate cake or any number of other foods. We know we should chew our food into a pulp but we do not. We often just manipulate it into a reasonable size and swallow. That reasonable size is often far bigger than a pill.

So why do we have such trouble with a pill? Because we are thinking about it as a dreaded pill instead of as yummy chewed food. I submit that if you change the way you think of the pill, the throat will open and it will go down easily without any crazed head tosses.

Now, for lifetime pillphobics, there is a small moment right before the pill goes down when panic sets in and the gag reflex takes over. We suddenly realize “Oh my goodness, I’m taking a PILL!” and then disaster sets in.

How, then, to prevent this? What you need is something to think about, some physical action to focus on that distracts us from pill consciousness. It comes down to three words: “Open the throat.” If you concentrate on that task and that task alone, the pill will be down before you know it.

As for the advice that you put the pill on the tip of your tongue, this is a disaster. It should not go there, if only because that gives it a longer length to travel before it comes to the critical part of the throat, and thereby imposes a greater length of time for psycho-freakout to set in.

It should not go on the tip of the tongue. A pill belongs in the center.

There is one other matter too that insures a flawless pill swallowing. Think of it. When you chew food, what is also happening? You mouth is being lubricated with saliva, which permits the food the flow down easily.

Now, you can’t chew most pills so you need to think of ways to simulate this saliva stimulation. Simple. You can take a drink of water before you take the pill. Or you can just work the glands themselves and make the tongue gooey wet. Then place the pill on the center of the tongue. And down it goes.

In short, there are four steps: 1) make the mouth wet, 2) place the pill in the tongue center, 3) think: this is only food, and 4) open the throat.

It works every time. Once you conquer your phobia, you will marvel that anyone else has trouble taking pills. At least now you have an article you can print to hand that poor soul at the next time who is making life so difficult for himself.

A final caution: don’t think that this doesn’t matter. Society has a low regard for people who cannot conquer such a simple task as this. What does it indicate about other life skills? It only takes a few minutes of practice to master the craft, and then there are only a few other thousand routine tasks in life left to master.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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  • As an RN working in ERs, I deal with this on almost a daily basis. This is exactly the same advice I give. But I have never heard anyone else instruct people to think of it this way. Well done, Jeffery!
    One thing I might add if someone is still having trouble: keep the pill in the center of the tongue so you don’t actually bite it, close your eyes and pretend to chew, then swallow. The masticating action helps fool the mind just that little bit more that is sometimes needed. Just don’t actually chew the pill.
    Also do not crush a pill to blend it with food such as applesauce unless you discuss it with your physician as many pills have either special coatings or components to make sure they dissolve in the correct time and place in the intestines.

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