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Researchers Suggest Ways To Make Pill Swallowing Easier


Anxiety is a factor behind another common problem - trouble swallowing pills. Some people find it so hard, they avoid taking all the medication they need. Researchers in Germany have been working on techniques to help. And NPR's Maanvi Singh volunteered to try them.

MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: I have always hated swallowing pills. As a kid, I'd bury them under sofa cushions or slip them under carpets. I'd hide the pill under my tongue and spit it out later. My parents tried everything, including sneaking tablets in food. But I was way too smart to fall for that. Things have improved slightly since then. As an adult, I understand we must all be prepared to take a few bitter pills. But I still gag on Tylenols and crush up my antibiotics. Turns out the same is true for my Science Desk colleague Alison Richards.

ALISON RICHARDS, BYLINE: It's easier to give pills to the cat then to take them myself. My throat just kind of seizes up.

SINGH: She blames her parents who are both pharmacists. She says they had a pill for every ill. Still, she bravely agreed to join me in testing out two methods suggested by researchers at the University of Heidelberg, with hopes that they would solve our pill-swallowing troubles for good. The first is called the pop bottle method, designed to work with large, dense tablets. You put the pill in your mouth, and then you close your lips tightly around a bottle filled with water. Tilt your head back and suck the water and the pill down.

RICHARDS: I'm not convinced, but I'm going to give it a try. So I'm putting the pill in now. Actually, that wasn't too bad. I think that worked.

SINGH: It didn't work quite as well for me. It hurt my throat. So I tried another technique, which works best with capsules.

So this one's called the lean forward technique. You're supposed to put the tablet on your tongue, take a medium sip of water, but don't swallow. And then bend your head forward by tilting your chin slightly towards your chest, and then you try to swallow while you're bending forward. (Coughing).

OK, so neither technique was particularly fun. But they both worked. Still, I'll be sticking with my tried and tested method, buying the smallest pill I can find. I'm Maanvi Singh for NPR News.

INSKEEP: Participatory journalism on Your Health for this Monday morning. Now, if you want to see how these techniques work, go to our blog Shots at npr.org/blogs/health, where you can watch a demonstration by our legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.