Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Help... I Can't Swallow My Pills!

Easy and Effective Strategies For
 Swallowing Medications

A hard pill to swallow...

it's not just an expression to use when dealing with something unpleasant or disappointing, it's a reality for nearly one third of adults who, every day,  have difficulty taking their medications.

For some, the troubles experienced when taking medicines are psychogenic in nature and can be traced back to a longstanding mental block or fear associated with swallowing pills. For others, a condition known as dysphagia is to blame.

While there are a variety of reasons a person may experience dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, typical causes are related to:

  • neurological impairments 
  • surgery
  • muscular weakness
  • physical changes 

Whatever the cause of the problem, coughing and gagging are the most frequently observed difficulties when it comes to swallowing medications and supplements, but troubles don't stop there. Over the years, I've seen lots of tears, a few emotional breakdowns, adamant refusals and, just last week, I saw a bright yellow potassium pill fly out of a lady's nose. Wow!

If pill swallowing problems were an every now and then occurrence, taking medicine might be tolerable, but that's usually not the case. Most adults are taking multiple medications, and they're doing it two, three and even four times a day. Considering this, it's easy to understand why the process of taking medicine can quickly become an agonizing process.

If you or someone you know is having problems swallowing pills, try to ease the stress by incorporating the following:

Top 10 Pill Taking Tips
From Your Speech Therapist

1.  Have plenty of liquid available

Drink as many sips of liquid as you need before taking medicine to moisten the mouth, during the swallowing process to put the  pill in motion and after swallowing medication to make sure the pill has cleared the mouth and throat. Water is the most common liquid used when taking medications, but typically, any liquid will do. Because some medications cannot be taken with citrus juices, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about liquid restrictions for the medicines you are taking.

2.  Start small and work your way up

When it comes to pills, bigger is not always better, and it's almost never any easier to swallow. Increase your success and build your confidence when taking medications by starting with the smallest pill.  Progressively work toward the largest pill, and you'll be done before you know it.

3.  Prioritize your pills

Begin by taking the most important medications. This way, if something goes wrong, you are sure that you've at least got those critical, life sustaining drugs in your system. Use your best judgment as there are not hard and fast rules for pill prioritization. Ask yourself, if I'm only able to take one pill, which one should it be? Here's a hint: blood pressure medicine should probably be taken before a calcium supplement, no matter who you are.

4.  Take one at a time

While some people can swallow an entire bucket of pills in one gulp, taking medications one at a time is recommended. Be patient, swallow medications one by one, and take rest breaks as needed. A slow, methodical approach allows easy passage and prevents a back up of pills in your throat.

5.  Place medication on the back of the tongue

Sometimes, the hardest part of taking medicine is getting it from the front of the mouth to the back of the throat. By using your fingers or a spoon to deliver tablets to a posterior point in the back of the mouth, less travel time is required. Additionally, the chances of a pill going down without getting stuck on your tongue or lost between your cheek and gum are increased. Word to the wise: this may not be a good strategy for someone with a hypersensitive gag reflex.

6.  Swallow hard

Put some effort into your swallow by squeezing the muscles of the throat and neck. By doing so, you will increase tongue base retraction and the pressure generated during the pharyngeal phase of the swallow. In combination, these actions are able to reduce the chances of pills getting stuck in the throat.

7.  Keep your head down - use a chin tuck

Don't be fooled, tossing your head back to look up when taking medication doesn't make it easier or safer. Performing a chin tuck is simple maneuver which provides several great benefits for increasing the ease of which you can take medications. Looking at your lap as you swallow actually opens the passageway, prevents medications from spilling prematurely over the back of the tongue and therefore, increases airway protection. Give it a try...I bet you will be glad you did.

8.  Cut or break tablets or caplets into pieces

With approval from your doctor or pharmacist, medications can be split into smaller pieces. While you may now have to contend with sharp edges and a yucky taste, often times, pills are easier to swallow when they are in smaller pieces. There are certain types and forms of drugs that cannot be broken or crushed, so carefully examine prescription warning labels and, if in doubt, consult with your physician. 

9.  Crush and/or mix medicines

Don't choke or gag your way through your medication routine, consider crushing pills and then mixing them into pudding , yogurt or applesauce. The smaller particles and the thick carrying agent can make it easier to get your medications down the hatch.  Just remember, extended-release medications should never be cut, chewed, crushed or dissolved. 

10. Liquid, chewable  and melt away options may be available

Tell your doctor if you're having trouble swallowing your medications. Instead of facing an intimidating horse pill, ask if there is something easier. Liquids, chewables, gummies and melt aways are available in some instances...but only if you ask for them

I've seen daughters, sons, husbands, wives, and caregivers struggle through the task of delivering pills to a loved one. Without a doubt, it can be an exhausting, time consuming and even heart wrenching process. 

While there is no one perfect way to swallow pills,  the process can be adjusted or individualized to ease the difficulty and stress associated with taking medications. With patience, encouragement and genuine commitment, medications can be safely swallowed.

A man's health can be judged by which he takes two at a time- pills or stairs.
Joan Welsh

PS:  Sharing is caring, so please feel free to pass this information along to someone you know who might benefit. 

PSS: Did I leave something out? Do you have a tip to share? Leave me a comment...I would love to hear from you.