For some people swallowing tablets can be tough. Dysphagia, the medical name for swallowing difficulties, is a symptom of a number of neurological disorders and muscular problems that might develop. If you’re included in the one in eight adults that have problems swallowing tablets, here are some tips that may help.

Why do people have problems with swallowing tablets?

Swallowing is extremely complex and when we do it we use 22 pairs of muscles. As we age the muscles throughout the body deteriorate, and as such our ability to swallow could be affected over time. However, more often swallowing problems can develop as a symptom of an underlying health condition such as stroke, dementia, cancers affecting the mouth and throat, head or neck injury, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease.

Teaching children how to swallow tablets

Swallowing is not always an easy thing for children to understand. We teach them not to swallow anything until it's completely chewed and not to put strange objects in their mouth. Swallowing pills goes against everything they've been taught, so understandably they may not pick it up the first time. There's no right age that a child should be taking tablets, although above three years old is recommended. Here's how to make the process easier:

  • Show your child what to do and don't make it seem like a stressful experience.
  • Getting them to take tablets with food may help. Something with a naturally thick consistency like mashed potato, apple sauce or honey might make it more appealing.
  • Get them to take a sip of water first to ensure their throat is lubricated.
  • As we've said before, there's no right age to start taking tablets, so if your child isn't ready then start with a chewable alternative while they practise.

What are the signs of dysphagia?

Dysphagia isn't just associated with tablets - it also includes difficulties with swallowing food and liquids. This disorder not only causes issues when it comes to taking medicines but can also cause problems on social occasions and going out for meals.

Are there any easy ways for me to swallow tablets?

Taking tablets with food can help alleviate the taste and help it go down more easily. Here are some good ones to try:

  • Bread - put a small piece of the pill in the mass of the bread and it should go down more smoothly.
  • Gummy bears - cutting a hole into a gummy bear and sweet can make the pill taste nicer. This technique is particularly good for children.
  • Honey - put the pill in a spoonful of honey to help the pill go down and then wash down with water.
  • Soft food like yoghurt, ice cream or apple sauce - this is a technique often used with people that have difficulty swallowing to make the process easier.

Are there any alternatives to tablets?

If you choose to take a nutritional supplement, there are plenty of alternatives to tablets. Sprays are suitable for fast absorption of nutrients, or you could try chewable gummies. There are plenty of varieties to choose from, such as vitamin D and multivitamins for men and for women.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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