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Photograph of woman with glass of water and a pill, instructing how to swallow a pill

How to Swallow a Pill

By: Michael Brown, PD

One of the questions that is brought up frequently is “when will my child be able to swallow a tablet or a capsule?” There is no right answer. I have children that start around the age of 4 and I have some adults in their 30’s and 40’s that still cannot swallow a “pill”.

Most children and adults swallow pieces of food that are much larger than most tablets and capsules. They don’t think about the chewing and swallowing process, but when they see medication, a sense of panic comes over them.

The problem for most is not the size of the medication but it is the technique used in swallowing.  I am going to share with you the technique I use with my patients.  First, let’s look at a tablet. Imagine yourself at a lake. If you throw a small rock into the water, what will happen? It SINKS, just like a tablet. Now, let’s look at the capsule. If you throw an empty plastic water bottle in the water, what happens? It FLOATS on top of the water, just like a capsule. So, it makes sense that we have to treat these two differently when we get ready to swallow a tablet verses a capsule.

How to Swallow a Tablet

  1. Take a drink of water. This will moisten the mouth and throat
  2. Put the tablet in your mouth and take a big drink of water.
  3. Tilt your head back and look up towards the sky. Since the tablet will sink in water, tilting your head will cause the tablet to go to the back of the mouth towards the throat.
  4. Swallow. When  you swallow, the water will push the tablet down into the throat. Success!

How to Swallow a Capsule

  1. Take a drink of water. This will moisten the mouth and throat.
  2. Put the capsule in your mouth and take a big drink of water.
  3. Remembering that a capsule will float, so lean a little forward and tilt your head downward where you are looking at your shoes. The capsule will float towards the throat.
  4. Swallow.

The technique for swallowing a capsule can take a little practice, so try without a capsule first. When you get the motion of looking at your feet and swallowing at the same time, repeat the process with the capsule.

I hope, going over the differences of swallowing a tablet verses a capsule, will help both children and adults who have had difficulty in taking medications. Please don’t hesitate to come by the Collier Drug Store in Bentonville, where I work, or one of the other Collier’s listed on the web site.