Why You Should Never Swallow Your Pills Dry

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We all take shortcuts. Whether you brush your teeth in the shower, rely on dry shampoo, or take backroads to avoid rush hour (thanks, Google maps), shortcuts can be helpful, time-saving tools. However, spraying an air freshener over dirty laundry doesn't solve the pile itself –- sometimes, it's worth taking the long way. As famously written by J.R.R. Tolkien himself, "shortcuts make long delays" (via Goodreads).

TikTok is a breeding ground for not-so-helpful hacks like using toilet bowl cleaner to dissolve grout or "natural" contouring -– using sunscreen and UV rays to burn on a jawline (ouch). Shortcuts, at their worst, can prove more dangerous than helpful. Though social media has played a role in popularizing questionable trends –- one TikTok hair curling hack went viral for all the wrong reasons –- it's also become a platform for spreading knowledge. For instance, popular creator @luciebfink revealed the dangers of swallowing your pills dry in a September 2022 video -– the consequences are more deadly than you might think. So, next time you're hoping to avoid a trip to the sink before you pop an Advil, opt for the long way rather than a shortcut.

Dry swallowing pills can cause damage to your throat's lining

In a September 2022 post, TikToker @luciebfink tells the story of "a friend of a friend of a friend" who swallowed a pill dry before going to sleep. As later reported by Self, the late-night shortcut had dire consequences –- because the pill was simply "sitting there" as they slept, it "burned a hole" in their throat. This unfortunate "friend of a friend of a friend" was greeted with a painful trip to the emergency room upon waking up.

Pharmacist Matthew Britt, RPH, confirmed the likelihood of this story with Self. As he explained, "Taking oral medications with water is important to ensure that the drug passes through to your stomach and small intestine and does not become lodged in your throat." Ultimately, "This will allow the medication to be absorbed properly in the body and produce the desired effect." When the pill's coating gets stuck, it can essentially "burn" the throat's lining, an effect called "pill-or-drug-induced esophagitis." To avoid these (admittedly rare yet painful) ulcers, take your medication with a gulp of water.

Though less dramatic than hemorrhaging throat holes, swallowing pills dry can also lead to general irritation, heartburn, and inflammation, according to Jennifer Caudle, DO, via The Healthy. As noted by Caudle, "Pain-relieving medications such as Motrin and Advil are commonly taken without water, and that class of drugs can be notoriously problematic if they get lodged in the throat."

Anxiety can make swallowing pills more difficult

The fear of swallowing pills is not uncommon –- in fact, there's even a term for it: pill phagophobia, per National Library of Medicine. In addition, stress results in a tightening sensation in the throat, making it even more difficult to take your medication. Truly a vicious cycle. Fortunately, some pill-taking methods work to combat anxiety. For instance, healthline recommends concentrating on the practice of swallowing itself. Instead of sipping straight from a cup, use a straw -– focusing on the action of sucking up water rather than the fear of swallowing a pill can prove helpful. Also, consider therapist-approved methods of coping with the anxiety itself.

Certain products, too, can turn a hard pill to swallow into something more manageable. At your local pharmacy –- or even on Amazon's virtual shelves -– look for "pill-glide," lubricating sprays that coat your medication to help it slide down more easily. Harvard Health Publishing also recommends tilting your head forward while taking medications. Simply place the pill on your tongue, take a large sip of water without swallowing, lean forward, and (finally) tip back to swallow both the pill and the liquid together. Smaller children also may find it helpful to swallow pills submerged in a cup of applesauce or pudding.