sort of like burning your mouth with pizza, only you don't get any pizza
January 22, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What exactly has happened when you "scratch your throat" by taking a pill or capsule with too little water?

I want to know so that I can figure out how to make it less irritating when I've done this. Last night I actually had trouble sleeping, it was so painful. Often when this has happened, I taste something acrid like actual powder from inside the capsule, so I wonder if they are actually still hanging in there.

The best way to avoid this, of course, is simply to drink enough water in the first place, but I take medication daily, so it happens every so often.
posted by Countess Elena to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you referring to having a pill stuck in your esophagus? I often swallow pills without water and occasionally they get stuck in my esophagus on the way to my stomach. Eventually gravity does its thing.

If this happens repeatedly and you're lying down, the solution is to drink water.

Sorry if this doesn't answer your question...
posted by dfriedman at 11:31 AM on January 22, 2012

It could be any of the above, really. The medicine could be literally lodged in your throat, it could have left irritating residue as it passed if it took too long to make it down, or it could have scratched the lining of the esophagus, or even a combination of the three.
posted by tau_ceti at 11:45 AM on January 22, 2012

My mom eats honey or peanut butter (or something else sticky and viscous) if she thinks there's a pill stuck somewhere to move it along. Honey could also sooth the scratchy feeling. I take problematic pills with full-fat chocolate milk--that seems to keep everything going in the right direction (and gives me an excuse to have chocolate milk). The chocolate covers the acrid taste better than regular milk, too, if you use it after taking the pill.
posted by BlooPen at 12:02 PM on January 22, 2012

Best answer: This sounds like pill esophagitis. What happens is not that the medication scratches your throat, but rather the pill or capsule may be caught in your esophagus, causing local irritation of your esophagus and resulting in the medication at least partially breaking down while sitting there. This phenomenon is known to cause esophageal erosions, which are painful and can even bleed or scar.

This may happen to some people more than others if they have strictures, masses, out pouchings or a condition called achalasia, all of which make it more difficult to swallow a pill. Certain medications are more prone to cause damage (and thus pain) if caught in your esophagus. Bisphosphonates (bone-building pills for osteoporosis) are one notable example, and you may notice that commercials for those drugs warn that you shouldn't take them if you cannot sit or stand for 30 minutes, because doing so is required in order to make sure the pill goes down.

To prevent this from happening, of course you know to drink a full glass of water, and then remain upright for a while to let gravity help out. In order to treat existing pain from this problem, you could try drinking more water to make sure the pill has gone down, and then try some liquid antacid like Maalox or Mylanta. If you want a pain medication, you could try a liquid or chewable children's pain reliever like Jr. Tylenol, adjusted to an adult dose (a regular adult tylenol tablet is 325 mg), to get pain relief without having to swallow another pill when you're hurting.

Of course, if this starts happening more frequently or in spite of efforts prevent the pill getting stuck, or if you have any problems or pain with swallowing other solids or liquids, go get checked out to make sure you don't have an esophageal problem that requires treatment. If you have any signs that you might be bleeding from your esophagus, go to an emergency room.
posted by kalanchoe at 12:23 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

When this happens to me I swallow a bite of bread to push the pill down. But if this happens too often, consider taking your pills in a spoonful of something semisolid instead, like applesauce or pudding.
posted by Soliloquy at 1:38 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Learn to take pills with a full glass of water, and stay upright for several minutes. If a pill ends up in your esophagus, it can damage it, and it takes quite a while to heal.
posted by theora55 at 5:31 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I take a handful of supplements and medications every morning and evening and have found, counterintuitively, that I have less trouble with the "stuck" feeling if I put the whole handful in my mouth with a large gulp of water and swallow it down in one go, compared to doing it in two or more batches or even taking each pill individually. I think it forces my throat to open up wider, so all the pills/capsules/gelcaps etc. go straight down instead of getting caught partway.
posted by Lexica at 6:31 PM on January 22, 2012

The traditional east asian remedy for a fish bone stuck in one's throat is to eat small balls of cooked rice until it's gone. Perhaps you could follow up the water with rice, or something similarly semisolid, pasty and a little sticky (eg mashed potato or as Soliloquy says, bread). Then maybe more water to be sure.
posted by Ahab at 9:56 PM on January 22, 2012

I agree with all the above, but one other thing that I do now is to make sure that I drink a few sips of water before I take a pill, so that if the pill gets to my dry throat before the water does, it won't stick as easily.
posted by rmless at 11:14 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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