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Ask Doctor K: Practice, tips help pills go down easier

Anthony L. Komaroff M.D.

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 7-year-old was recently prescribed a medication that comes only in pill form. The problem is, he can’t swallow pills. Any advice?

DEAR READER: It’s perfectly normal for children to have trouble swallowing pills. The good news is that there are techniques you can try to make it easier.

A review article in the journal Pediatrics looked at a variety of techniques. These included using a special cup and teaching children different ways to hold their heads while swallowing.

All of the techniques worked well for most of the children. More important, most children overcame their pill-swallowing problems. That’s important because children who need medicine must be able to take it.

Try this technique first: Place the pill far back on your child’s tongue. Have him quickly drink water or a favorite drink and prompt him to swallow large amounts. Direct your son to keep his head up straight or bent slightly forward. It can be hard to swallow if the head is bent backward.

Your child may not like the taste or smell of the pill. If that’s the case, try putting it in something sweet, such as ice cream, applesauce or another soft food.

Sometimes it’s OK to split the pill in half. You also might crush it into powder. Make sure to check with the pharmacist first.

To turn a pill into powder, crush it between two spoons. Pill crushers and pill splitters are also available for purchase at most pharmacies. Once crushed, mix the powder with syrup, yogurt, applesauce or any sweet food that does not need to be chewed.

Capsules that work slowly over time should not be crushed. Instead, ask your pharmacist if the medicine inside of them can be opened and put into a sweet food.

Swallowing pills can get easier with practice.

Most kids who have trouble swallowing pills “grow out” of it. However, some of my adult patients don’t like swallowing pills, either.

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