Dry Swallowing Pills May Be More Dangerous Than You Think

Cold weather is upon us, which means that cold and flu season is just around the corner. The sinus pressure, fatigue, and sniffles that come with seasonal illnesses are no one's idea of fun. One of the first things many of us reach for is a warm cup of tea or soup, which can deliver some therapeutic benefits, according to research published in the medical journal Chest. But while home remedies can help ease the early symptoms of a cold, they're sometimes not enough.

When aches and pains become too much to bear, even the most medication-averse among us turn to over-the-counter treatments for relief. But sometimes, we feel so ill that it can be difficult to drink the recommended full glass of water alongside our pills. In fact, some of us are keen to toss back tablets without any fluids at all. Improperly swallowing medication might seem tempting when faced with no other options, but it can lead to severe outcomes. But what are the risks of dry swallowing pills, and how can you prevent them?

The consequences associated with dry swallowing pills

If you take pills without accompanying liquids, several things could go wrong. First, you might be surprised to learn that how you take your medication can affect how quickly your pills start to work. For example, don't be so quick to flop back into bed after you've taken cold and flu formulas — your posture plays a role in how efficiently your body breaks them down. According to a recent study published in The Physics of Fluids, the speed at which your body absorbs active ingredients can be significantly impacted by how you stand or rest. For those curious, researchers found that laying on your right side after taking pills is associated with the quickest rate of absorption. Still, you should always follow the instructions listed on the medication's packaging for the best results.

However, absorption isn't your only concern when it comes to taking a pill the right way. Any form of medicine, from liquid gelcaps to tablets, can become lodged in your throat if swallowed incorrectly. Swallowing pills dry can lead to esophagitis, which feels like a burning sensation or stuck pill in your throat, and may even result in choking. "[A tablet] got stuck in my windpipe, causing me to choke horribly before the glands in my face went into overdrive to flush it out," cricketer Ben Stokes told The Mirror. Fortunately, experts have identified some simple measures to protect yourself from pill-related injuries.

How to take a pill correctly

Most medications come with guidelines or instructions on how to take them properly. However, despite our best efforts, we may still experience painful symptoms, like the feeling of a pill stuck in our throats. Some drugs, like antibiotics, are more challenging to swallow than others, but experts have established ways to make your medicine go down efficiently. "Any pill, particularly the more caustic pills that have been frequently reported to cause [throat pain], should be taken upright, with a full glass of water, and not immediately prior to going to bed," Dr. J. Walter Kikendall explains in the medical journal Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Dr. Kikendall notes that esophagitis or burning sensations in the throat are often caused by ingesting a pill in bed and lying back down.

While it's true that some pills can't be crushed or mixed into foods, there are solutions for capsules that feel difficult to swallow or cause irritation to your throat. "Order some empty gelatin capsules and put the [tablet] inside," writes one Redditor. Similarly, when it comes to over-the-counter medications, like those formulated for colds, try reaching for liquid products instead of tablets. For some people, difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia, may still occur.

"[There may be] something causing the swallowing problems that would only be identified with an instrumental swallowing assessment," rehabilitation expert Denise Ambrosi tells Harvard. If swallowing pills regularly causes you pain or complications, consider speaking to your doctor or a speech-language pathologist.