Fran Aliakbarkhani, Pharmacist

By Fran Aliakbarkhani, Pharmacist

Give an eight-year-old a chocolate brownie, and he can gulp down a chunk the size of a baseball with all the skill of a python. But give him one allergy medication to swallow, and he flops around in a panic as if his entire digestive system has suddenly slammed shut. A full 40% of us have a similar reaction. Best-practice suggestions aim to help those who panic under pill pressure or whose throats experience medication stage fright. Which one is your ‘go-to’?

Back in 1984, one study1 suggested that correct placement of the intended pill on the back of the tongue was paramount to success. Researchers happily reported success after subjecting their test gulpers to their 30 to 60-minute training session, apparently designed to hone one’s pill placement skills. 

Calgary psychologist Bonnie Kaplan argued that head position determined pill-swallowing success2. In 2010, she suggested turning one’s head to fully open the upper esophageal sphincter (flinging open the barn door, as it were). She admitted, however, that lifting one’s chin to form Mount Esophagus Ski Slope also works for some. However, a 2022 Mount Sinai post3 discounted the ski slope technique as it also opened wide the airway, providing free access to a dangerous double black diamond ski run (experts only!).

These days, our less-than-comfortable pill swallowers have options. A study published by Annals of Family Medicine recommends two methods. The pop bottle method has you place the pill on your tongue and your lips around the rim of a water bottle (disposable, not thermos-style) and use a ‘swift suction movement’ to swallow. Voila!

The ‘lean forward method’ requires you to place the pill on your tongue, take a medium sip of water, lower your chin, and swallow. This chin-to-chest method has the added benefit of putting you in a prayer-ready position in case things go sideways.

Swallowing pills is a mechanical act with psychological restrictions. But with the proper technique and practice, those restrictions can be lifted. But don’t cheat! Cushing your pills is unsafe unless your pharmacist gives you the green light. If you still have problems, talk to your Yurek pharmacist about alternative medication delivery methods. And go easy on those chocolate brownies!