That’s a Hard Pill to Swallow

1530970 © Wellford Tiller /Dreamstime

“That’s a hard pill to swallow” isn’t just a figure of speech: It’s a real-life problem for many people. Difficulty swallowing is called dysphagia. It can be caused by several reasons and is more common in older adults, but is not considered a normal part of aging. Swallowing involves many muscles and nerves working together to get food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. Trouble with swallowing can originate anywhere in the mouth, throat or esophagus.

Swallowing problems can be mild or severe. The treatment varies depending on what’s causing the problem. People with certain neurological or nervous system disorders are more likely to have difficulty swallowing. When you swallow, your airway closes and you stop breathing for a moment. Trouble with the coordination of any of the nerves and muscles involved in the process can lead to choking or getting food or liquid into your lungs. If you have trouble swallowing, have an evaluation to see what the cause is.

Symptoms associated with dysphagia can include:

  • Pain or inability to swallow
  • A sensation of food getting stuck in the throat, chest or behind the breastbone
  • Drooling
  • Hoarseness
  • Food coming back up (regurgitation)
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Food or stomach acid backing up into the throat
  • Weight loss

Until you know whether there is a problem behind your swallowing difficulties, here are a few things you can try to make swallowing medicine a little easier:

  • Put a pill in applesauce or pudding. The texture can make it easier to swallow pills whole.
  • Grind a pill into a powder and add it to applesauce or pudding.
  • Cut a pill with a pill splitter and swallow the smaller pieces one-by-one. Pill splitters are available at most pharmacies.
  • Unless the medications’ prescription indicates otherwise, follow up swallowing pills with plenty of water.

Make sure you ask your pharmacist if it’s okay to cut or grind a medication. Timed-release or enteric-coated medicines shouldn’t be broken apart. It may also be possible to get your medicine in another form such as a powder, cream, or liquid, so don’t hesitate to ask. If you happen to run out of meds, this website may have the supplies you need.