Ask the doctors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 10:24am

Q: I'm 30 years old, but I still can't seem to swallow pills. How can I teach myself to do so, or what alternatives do I have?

A: You are not alone. Many individuals have the same problem. It is usually not structural or functional. Find out what it is that bothers you. If it is the taste or texture, maybe changing the medium of the medication or adding a sweet syrup may solve the problem.

The act of swallowing is entirely voluntary, but the subsequent phases are involuntary reflexes.

Here are some suggestions to "teach" yourself how to swallow pills:

  • Cut similar sized pieces of banana or clumps of rice and practise swallowing them before trying to swallow the pill.
  • Look in the mirror, place the pill as far back in as possible in the centre of your tongue. This may cause you to gag, but keep trying. Then close your mouth and swallow, let your reflex take over. A sip of water will help.

The following may also help:

  • Take a small mouthful of water or flavoured drink and pop the pill in before swallowing.
  • Cut a piece of marshmallow like a hot dog bun, insert the pill and swallow it with some water. You can use bread the same way.
  • Chew some food until it becomes soft, then push the pill into it and swallow together.
  • Try using a spoonful of jam or jelly and place the pill inside.
  • If the medication is in capsule form, you can open the capsule and mix the contents with a small amount of syrup or juice.
  • If it is in pill form, crush the pill and mix with syrup or juice. But do not use this method if it is a time-release pill.
  • Some medications come in chewable or liquid form, so ask before purchasing.


Dr Wilson Chong is the clinical director of the 24-hr walk-in clinic/accident and emergency service, Parkway Shenton in Singapore