Going down... and staying there.
January 3, 2007 11:49 AM   Subscribe

How do I rid myself of this recent pill-swallowing phobia?

Ever since we've had mice in the house and I simultaneously thought of mouse droppings and swallowing my pills, I've been unable to keep any down. My gag reflex triggers and they all come right back up. I've tried going in reverse and thinking of pills as good things, or not thinking at all, and it's not working- now I have an awful infection in both ears, and I'm scared to take my antibiotics for fear of wasting half the bottle trying to keep them down (I've already tried taking tylenol today: I was dry heaving for a good 10 minutes before I even managed to get them in my mouth and swallow them).

(Alternately, reccomend to me some OTC numbing ear drops before I cry. Yes, it hurts THAT badly, and I DID go to the doctor this morning, who says that my left is just a little red, and there is some fluid in my right... and even though that doesn't explain why my left hurts worse, or why my throat hurts, I've always been particularly sensitive to ear infections.)

My ears hurt, AskMeFi! Please help me get over swallowing my pills!
posted by Glitter Ninja to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I got over my pill-swallowing problem by eventually getting sick enough that I was motivated to swallow them at any cost. But it sounds like you're just about there, and it isn't working.

Maybe you can call your doc and ask if your pills can be crushed or chewed. I crushed my pills and ate them in apple sauce or ice cream for years. Biting the pills might work for you...once you taste how bitter they are and you just gulp them down, it might make you realize that they really are pills and not droppings. Maybe getting a pill down any way you can would be enough to snap you out of this block.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 11:52 AM on January 3, 2007

Buy some sugar-coated advil (the old-school advils are mauve and sweet) or even tic-tacs to practive with!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:53 AM on January 3, 2007

The trick to any pill: drink *two* swallows of water.
posted by rhizome at 11:55 AM on January 3, 2007

Oh I feel for you... I used to be plagued by recurring earaches and I eventually outgrew them... Earache pain is horribly difficult to deal with... There are many different brands of OTC eardrops for pain (you could call a local pharmacy for a recommendation), or you can have your doctor give you a prescription for Auralgan...

As far as your pill-swallowing problems, the trick is to not let yourself feel the pill on your tongue... Fill your mouth with water (or whatever liquid you're drinking) and then pop the pill quickly between your pursed lips... Let the pill "float" and take a fast swallow without giving yourself too much time to think about it...

Good luck, and I hope you feel better soon!
posted by amyms at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2007

Also, don't think about swallowing the pill. Think about swallowing the water, and the pill goes right down with it.
posted by wubbie at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2007

Remind yourself that mouse droppings are much smaller than pills, and could never be confused with them?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2007

I've had to swallow a lot of pills over the years, and I always used to gag. I read some guy's advice on the internet, which totally helped me. I was doing the wrong thing entirely. I would position each pill exactly right on my tongue, take a big sip of water, and try to swallow. Instead, he suggested just tossing the pill in your mouth like a piece of popcorn or something and taking a quick drink of water before the pill even really registers in your mouth. Using this method, I can now swallow three gelcap sized pills at one time.

Also, antibiotics can hurt your tummy, which won't help you get over your problem. Make sure that it's ok to have dairy near the time that you take the pills, and eat some yogurt with active cultures.
posted by gokart4xmas at 11:59 AM on January 3, 2007

I had a weird pill phobia for while too--although mine was a temporary choking fear that came out of nowhere. I solved that by 1) confessing it to someone and 2) having that person stay in the room with me while I took the pill.

In your case, I'd still suggesting confess the phobia you know to someone in real life--I think that helps you deal with what's going on in your head. Then, maybe put things in your visual sight line with positive connotations that you can focus on--M and M candies, other small pill like candy, maybe some nice smelling fruit or some other fragrant food? Anything that you can use to substitute for the bad images that your brain is hung up on.
posted by divka at 12:01 PM on January 3, 2007

My parents used to train my brother and me with little cinnamon candy hearts. These were very small (roughly the size of a 10mg pill) and sugar coated, not those evil chalky candies.

Another tip is to see if the pills float or sink. If it's a floater tilt your head forward when swallowing and you won't notice the pill.
posted by chairface at 12:12 PM on January 3, 2007

1. Pick up a piece of mouse poop. Really look at it. Examine it. Sniff it a bit. Bring it close to your face and imagine putting it in your mouth...if you're brave (and perhaps a bit daft) pop it in.

2. Wash hands.

3. Go look at an innocent white pill. Realize that they are not even remotely similar.

This will probably be the worst advice you'll get, but it might also be the best.

Also, have you tried swollowing pills outside your house where there are no mice, like at a friend's house?
posted by milarepa at 12:16 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

See also. (not exactly the same, as this person had always had trouble, rather than a recently-developed phobia, but you may still find some of the answers there useful.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:31 PM on January 3, 2007

Somewhat related advice here.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2007

I've had this all my life. How I cope:

-Smaller sips of water are better than big ones - with a big gulp sometimes most of the water will wash down before the pill does, causing it to *clunk* against some point in the back of my mouth, triggering the gag reflex.

-Sometimes water just won't do it. Anything sweet will help take my mind off of the pill swallowing, and it usually goes down a lot easier. I especially like lightly sugared tea, but keep in mind that the heat might melt the pill or capsule, possibly causing gustatory nastiness.

-Take your time. There's no shame in taking half a minute to drink a few sips of water, one of which will casually be 'spiked' with a pill. You'll swallow the pill along with the water on the nth sip, and it's an amusingly victorious feeling - "Ha! Fooled myself again!".
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:12 PM on January 3, 2007

I've found it greatly helps if you fill your mouth with some water first, then insert the pill, and begin drinking from the glass.

For me, it's just a matter of not being physically aware that the pill is there. If I can get it moving in the water before my tongue can really feel it and press against the roof of my mouth, it's all good.
posted by odinsdream at 1:13 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Er - what amyms said.
posted by odinsdream at 1:13 PM on January 3, 2007

1. Pick up a piece of mouse poop. Really look at it. Examine it. Sniff it a bit. Bring it close to your face and imagine putting it in your mouth...if you're brave (and perhaps a bit daft) pop it in.

Er... Don't play with mouse poop any more than absolutely necessary, especially if you're in Hanta virus country.
posted by CKmtl at 1:17 PM on January 3, 2007

One technique I've been trying recently is to drop the pill in a shot glass of whiskey (or whatever your poison is). I realized this out during a night of drinking, once - when I'm in a shot race I just throw it down, and swallowing is kind of an afterthought.

Granted, you might not be able to take many pills this way in a row, and it might not be the most healthy option, especially for those pills you shouldn't combine with booze, but I've found it can help me kind of skip past the pill-phobia that overcomes me once the damn thing is resting beneath my tongue in evil anticipation of the hell its about to wreak on my throat.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:21 PM on January 3, 2007

can you hide the pill in a spoonful of something creamy and pleasant, like yogurt, ice cream, pudding, applesauce, or smooth peanut butter? maybe chop the pill into smaller pieces if necessary?
posted by twistofrhyme at 3:49 PM on January 3, 2007

I don't like swallowing pills either. One thing that works is to take the pill with a cracker or piece of bread. Chew a bit and then throw the pill in your mouth and swallow the chewed up cracker and pill all at once. It just works somehow (for me, anyway).

Another solution is to try a compounding pharmacy. I believe they can make you a liquid version of your pills. Good luck!
posted by jdl at 3:52 PM on January 3, 2007

I absolutely could not swallow pills for the longest time. Not that I had an actual phobia, just a strong gag reflex. Eventually I convinced myself that if I could force a pill down a cat's throat when they really don't want to swallow it, then I could force myself to swallow pills, too.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:06 PM on January 3, 2007

Tylenol--Crush it up, the taste isn't all that bad. Mix it with fruity yogurt and you may not even notice it.

Antibiotics--A great many of them are available as liquid solutions/suspensions, even at a fairly basic pharmacy.
posted by oats at 5:27 PM on January 3, 2007

I second on putting it in something soft, like yougurt or apple sauce. When I was younger and didnt want liquid medicines anymore, I took tootsie rolls, molded them into a pill shape and practiced with them. I thought it was a good idea, because if you do the same with a pill it dissolves and gets very icky. Good luck!
posted by ForeverDcember at 6:43 PM on January 3, 2007

Just to add to the loads of advice (that doesn't mean you shouldn't read this.)

I didn't know how to swallow pills, well into adulthood. I'd dry swallow the pill. Then swallow (and struggle).

The secret is to drink a little water, then pop the pill, then swallow the next bit of water. Don't pause. Your mouth should be wet.

Think about it - you swallow larger pieces of food every day.

Except these items heal.
posted by filmgeek at 8:08 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hey. Are you me? Because I have the same problem with pills and go by "Glitter Ninja" on Usenet. Got the name from Kibo years ago.

Anyhow. I've found the best thing that works for me is to put the pill kind of close to the back of my throat, get some water, and take a second to make sure I feel comfortable swallowing, kind of open the back of my throat and do it. It's hard to describe but it's the only thing that's worked. I used to really choke on Excedrin tablets, so I know how bad pill swallowing can be.
posted by smashingstars at 9:24 PM on January 3, 2007

I am terrible at swallowing pills, especially anything larger than an advil. I recently discovered that taking pills with yogurt instead of water is a much better way to disguise them. I can feel them bobbing around in the water, but they're much less noticeable in yogurt. I take a small spoonful of yogurt, then throw the pill in, then swallow everything. If you put the pill in first then you're already aware of its presence, and can get yourself all freaked out. Like goodnewsfortheinsane said, I can "fool myself" every day this way!
posted by Joh at 10:12 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I realize you are not a child. Nevertheless, here are the research proven steps for teaching a child with developmental delays how to take a pill. If they can do it, I'm confident you can too.

Table 1. Teaching Pill Swallowing
1. Model for your child the steps in swallowing a pill
a. Place pill on the back of your tongue.
b. Keep the tongue flat.
c. Take liquid in the mouth.
d. Tilt the head backward slightly.
e. Swallow.
2. Gradually increase the size of the pill in the following
a. Oblong, multicolored sprinkle used for cake
b. Spherical, silver cake decoration
c. Round, multicolored candy (0.3 cm-0.7 cm diameter)
d. Red licorice whip cut to 1-cm length
e. Capsule-shaped candy, multicolored, sold as
“Tic Tacs”
f. Normal-sized capsule: the child’s actual pill
Have your child practice swallowing each size piece of
sprinkle or candy as many times as it takes for him to get
accustomed to it. These procedures usually take about 45
minutes to 1 hour but may take you a little longer
Adapted from “A brief, effective method for teaching children to swallow pills”
by R. L. Blount, L. M. Dahlquist, R. A. Baer and D. Wouri, 1984, Behavior
Therapy, 15, p.383.
posted by kch at 10:29 PM on January 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I had the same problem as you back when I was taking daily anti-depressants, except that my problems weren't triggered by anything as far as I can tell. What I found works for taking pills is to get a mouthful of water (though sometimes it would have to be something else, as the feel of the water would make me gag), swallow until only a sip was left, tilt your head back like you're gargling, drop the pill right into the back of your troat and then swallow. You can't even feel the pill if you do it right.

However, for times when I couldn't even manage that, I would do the pill-with-applesause method suggested above, or dry swallow the pill with a spoonful of sugar (which was how my mom always got me to take pills when I was little). I hope one of these works for you.

Alternatively, you could wrap the pill in cheese, or put it inside one of those little weiner sausages. That works for our dogs. :P

Anyways, good luck to you with this. I hope it doesn't turn out like cough syrup did for me. To this day I can't even watch cough syrup commercials without gagging and changing the channel.
posted by internet!Hannah at 10:59 PM on January 3, 2007

I learned to swallow pills by practicing first with swallowing cooked peas. If you teach yourself to think of the pills as merely food you don't chew, it can help with the gag reflex.
posted by np312 at 11:12 PM on January 3, 2007

My wife has always had trouble taking pills. One good thing she learned from her mother's stroke:

Tilt your head forward as you swallow. It opens up the throat and makes it much easier. Tilt your head back and the throat is constricted. She would have saved herself years of difficulty if she had learned this earlier.
posted by pointilist at 5:54 PM on January 4, 2007

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