Can a Spoonful of Sugar Really Make the Medicine Go Down More Easily?

Don't Try This

As a child, I had the worst time taking pills. I could not swallow them, not even the smallest of them, without first chewing. Most pills are not intended, or designed to be chewed, but to be swallowed quickly, if only because they have a nasty taste to them, and sometimes an even nastier aftertaste.

Being allergic to seemingly everything in the world, I was taking some well-known antihistamine tablets as a teenager and chewing them. As a child I had been required to take a multivitamin. It was hard to determine which of these tablets tasted worse. Both caused a severe gag reflex and to this day I have never forgotten how nasty they were and what an awful experience trying to get them swallowed was.

When I was thirteen years old I caught a bad cold and it turned into pneumonia. I was sick for weeks. About midway through the disease my doctor prescribed some sort of antibiotic (not penicillin) that he thought would finish off any remnants of the illness. The antibiotic came in the form of a huge pill – what I am still fond of calling a “horse pill.”

Hard as I tried, I could not swallow the horse pill. It was just too huge. My grandmother was living with us at the time and she suggested I cut the pill in half. The pill was similar to today’s caplets, hard and compact, but about 20 times bigger at least. The pills were easily a half-inch long. They were so hard they would not break.

Finally, (and this is a true recount of what actually happened), I got a butcher knife from a kitchen drawer, placed the pill on the kitchen table, and first tried to literally cut the pill in half. The knife would not cut through the pill even though it was razor sharp. (Please do not try this method I am describing because you may injure yourself.)

Next, I placed the pill on the table and from a short distance of perhaps a couple of inches above the pill; I hit the pill as near to the center as I could with the sharp blade of the butcher knife. I managed to remove a tiny chip from the pill in that way. Not what I was hoping to accomplish.

Finally, I raised the knife about a foot over the pill and brought it down hard on the pill, and the pill broke into two large pieces and a few smaller ones, all of them flying everywhere from the impact of the knife. The large pieces I salvaged after hunting for them on the floor were jagged. The pills had cost about $2 a piece and so I felt compelled to take them even if they had shot like little bullets everywhere, including onto the floor.

The pieces were still quite large, and as I said, jagged, making them no easier to swallow. Thinking about it now many years later, I wonder if diamonds really are the hardest mineral . . .

Whacking The Pills With A Butcher Knife Went On For About Two Weeks Until The Pills Were Gone

The pills had to be swallowed twice daily. I was still being kept home from school, so every morning and every evening I got out the butcher knife and whacked the pills, breaking them as best I could by the method previously described.

My grandmother was staying with me at the time, my father was working when the pills were due to be taken so he did not know my method for resolving the swallowing issue, and my mother was in the hospital. There really was not anyone to supervise this activity with the pills. I was careful with the knife and had handled sharp knives since I was five years old, so really the biggest danger was probably having one of the splinters/pieces of the pill ricochet off something into my eye as they sped around the room after being broken by the whack of the knife.

You must be laughing pretty hard by now, and looking back after so many years, it seems pretty funny since nothing awful happened as a result. The jagged edges still caused a lot of gagging, but I did manage to swallow at least half of all the pieces I was able to find, though I’m not sure what affect they had on the remnants of my illness. As we can very probably agree, this is not the best way to take medicine.

Method Number 2

The next method I used at my grandmother’s suggestion was only barely an improvement. An improvement only because there were no butcher knives involved. This time the doctor prescribed an antibiotic encased in giant capsules. My grandmother said it might help to take the capsules apart and mix the contents with a spoon of sugar. So I did that, I took them apart, but one spoon of sugar was not enough, and the contents of the pill had the worst possible taste, and aftertaste, too, that one could possibly imagine.

There wasn’t a spoon big enough that would fit into my mouth that would also hold all the required sugar to get the capsule contents down. Taking pills has to be among the worst experiences I had as a child growing up. Even though I finally got to where I could take average sized pills in my late 20s, I have never forgotten these awful experiences. As a result, doctors have a difficult time persuading me to accept pills of any kind for any reason.

Reasons Why Removing Contents From Capsules May Not Be A Good Idea

Some capsules are time release, and removing the contents of the capsule messes that up. Also, you may spill/lose some of the powder in the process, not giving you a complete dose.

Another major concern; the medicine may be irritating to your esophagus or stomach lining, and the capsule is intended to act as a buffer from that happening.

Before opening a capsule and trying to take the contents with sugar, I would recommend first consulting your pharmacist or physician. It may be possible to prescribe an alternative medicine or even the same medicine in a different form that you can swallow more easily.

If your physician agrees, it may be possible to break open some capsules or crush some tablets and then sprinkle the contents onto applesauce or jam, or something similar.

Dr. Loraine Stern's Suggestions For Taking Medicine Successfully

Dr. Loraine Stern, M.D. Pediatrician in Valencia California suggests giving children medicine along with white grape juice, frozen fruit pops, graham crackers, or chocolate syrup, because these things may mask the taste or aftertaste of many medicines.

If you are an adult still having trouble taking medicines, there is no reason you cannot try taking your medicines with these items too, even though you are all grown up.

Dr. Stern also says that sometimes drinking liquid medicine through a straw followed by strong tasting fruit juice may help. The straw will help most of the medicine to bypass the taste buds that are near the front of the mouth, and the fruit juice will help get rid of any aftertaste.

With infants, Dr. Stern recommends using a dropper to put small amounts of medicine into the side of the baby’s mouth where it is more difficult for a baby to spit it out and the taste is not as strong.

Mixing medicine in a bottle with milk or fruit juice is not recommended, because some of the medicine may stick to the sides of the bottle and then the baby will not get the full dose.

Some pharmacies make flavoring agents available that the pharmacist can mix in with medications. Ask your pharmacist about these in case they are available where you are. Also, ask your doctor to prescribe medicine in this way when you are in his/her office, whether the medicine is for your child or even if it is for you.

The difficulty of taking some medicines may be one of the reasons people do not always finish their medications as they should.

Speak up when you are in your doctor’s office and tell your doctor if you have trouble taking certain medications. Ask your doctor for a form of medicine that will go down more easily. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who have trouble swallowing pills, even small pills, so you need not be embarrassed to ask your doctor for help with this problem. S/he is almost certainly used to dealing with it.

© 2012 C E Clark

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Comments 26 comments

Au fait profile image

Au fait 22 months ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Patricia (pstraubie48) for reading, and for sharing your experience with this issue, also for the share etc., and of course the angels. I don't have trouble swallowing pills anymore. Somewhere around age 30 things improved.

You have to tell your doc the horse pills are a problem to swallow if that's the case and ask him if maybe you could take several smaller ones or maybe the medicine could be in a different form. If you don't tell him/her they have no way of knowing you have trouble swallowing and if not noted in your file it will be forgotten by the next time you see your doc.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 22 months ago from sunny Florida

My Daddy had the same difficulty with swallowing pills. Your adventure with how you cut your pills reminded me of him He even put him in his vice in his work space!!! If the pieces were not tiny he could not get them down. Fortunately I do not have that problem.

You would think that it would no longer be a problem (pill size, that is) with all of the advances in medicine and science but they may not be the case either. I know I have had to take sulpha drugs from time to time in the last ten years and they were still quite large.

Personally, I vote for honey or sugar to help meds go down if they are 'nasty' which some of them just are.

Sharing your story will no doubt help others to realize they really are not the only ones who have difficulty swallowing

Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

Voted up and shared

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W, for pinning and sharing this article! It often pays to find out while still in the doc's office what size some pills are going to be so one can ask for an alternative if need be before getting to the pharmacy.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Will be pinning this post to my health related subjects board on Pinterest and will share again. People need to know that often there are alternatives to those "horse pills." We need only ask! :)

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Deborah-Diane for reading and commenting on this hub, and also for sharing and pinning it. Yes, I think lots of people may have trouble swallowing medicines for lots of reasons. I can swallow most pills now, but every once in a while I'm prescribed a 'horse pill,' and they're still a little bit tricky, though not nearly so bad as when I was still a kid.

Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

This is great information. I loved your story about trying to split the pill! Young people are not the only ones who may have trouble swallowing a pill. The elderly may also find it difficult. I have shared this on my "Helpful Medical Information" board and shared it with my followers, many of whom are older adults. Thanks!

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for reading, commenting, voting on and especially for sharing this article! Even at age 13 I was careful to take my left hand away from the 'horse pill' before bringing the butcher knife down on it hard. But I agree that trying to resolve the issue of the 'horse pill' by the means I tried is not recommended.

I think it is always a good idea when the doc prescribes a medication to ask him/her what form that medication is in, and if it is pills, to inquire as to how big they are if a person has trouble swallowing them.

Don't wait 'til you're at the pharmacy or at home to see what size the pills are and then call the doc and try to get a different, smaller medication. Get the matter settled right from the start before the doc leaves the examination room so that you won't have to mess with it later, and you'll be able to begin your meds right away with no backing and forthing with the doc's office nurse and the pharmacy.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas are lucky that you did not cut yourself wielding that butcher's knife trying to cut up those pills. Most of the time I can take my pills OK but now and again the gag reflex kicks in. Not fun! You offer good advice to people to talk to their doctors to see if there are any alternatives when being prescribed pills for those who have a problem taking them. Up and useful. Will also share.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for reading, commenting, voting on and sharing this hub. Appreciate that you shared your personal experience too. Sometimes people who have trouble swallowing medicines feel bad about having trouble and I think it helps them to know they aren't the only ones having trouble. I can usually get the horse pills down nowadays if need be, but if I know the doc is going to prescribe horse sized pills, I ask him to come up with something else. Maybe your medicine is available in a different form that would go down better. Doesn't hurt to ask.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you RTalloni for reading and commenting on this hub. Some of the advice here, especially from Dr. Stern is good, but I wouldn't recommend anyone get out a butcher knife at any age (I was 12 I think) in order to whack a huge pill in half. ;)

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

Good advice here on taking meds. Experience is a good teacher, yes? :)

moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

Interesting hub. I take big horse pills everyday and they manage to go down ok most days. I don't have to much trouble taking pills. Liquid medication I have trouble with it makes me gag. Voted up and shared.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

I had scarlet fever myself, and complications from measles, and I spent most of my childhood being sick from one thing or another. I rather suspect botht he Cod Liver Oil and the pills were pretty horrible and if you'd had to take the pills you might not think they were any better. Gagging and choking for long periods of time on a twice daily schedule isn't much fun either. You might be surprised at just how many options there are for "horrible." Thank you Shyron, for your comments -- as always!

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

I don't remember much about medication pill or liquid, except the Cod-Liver-Oil, and B12 shots, would have gladly taken the pills. And I don't remember what I had to do take for rheumatic fever, which I had as a child. (I have slept many nights since then)

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you 50 caliber, for coming by and taking time to comment! I was hoping the pharmaceuticals had stopped making those awful huge horse pills in favor of more concentrated smaller pills or just requiring a person to swallow more small ones. You're so right in that they should have realized by now that the horse pills aren't necessarily beneficial.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Brett: Thank you for your comments! Very much appreciate your taking time to read and add to the conversation. While I agree that things often seem bigger to children than they are, I actually measured the 'horse pills' with a ruler. They would seem and be huge even today. I hope pills aren't made that big anymore because their size often defeats their purpose because lots of people have trouble swallowing such hube pills.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Shyron: Thank you for your comments. I've never had cod liver oil. Only read about it in one of Mark Twain's stories and it sounded pretty bad in the story . . .

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

jaybird22: Thank you for your comments! Glad you enjoyed the story. ;)

50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 4 years ago from Arizona

Au fait, a fun write on a topic that the big farma still makes "Horse Pills" and offer little relief in size. It's a thing I don't get, in this age, one would think they new better. Thanks for the writing,


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

I was just a kid, Bob. No psychological issues yet ;), but it just wouldn't go down. I'm not sure even a horse could have managed the pills in question since they were almost as big as me! I measured them and the one was 3/4 inch long and the capsules weren't much smaller.

Thank you, Bob, for taking time to read and comment. Always appreciate you!

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

tillsontitan: Yes, I have had an "interesting life." You don't know the half of it -- and it's not over yet! I think in my last life I offended someone who wished this interesting life on me in retribution. (Just kidding.) Thank you for taking time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

Brett.Tesol profile image

Brett.Tesol 4 years ago from Thailand

Thankfully there are normally many options for taking medicine now. However, personally I do not find it much of a problem to take pills, although I prefer not to. That said, as a kid, they probably seem enormous in comparison to your actual size!! lol

Shared, up and interesting.

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

Wonderful hub, Yes it does bring back memories. But pills could not be worse than Cod Liver Oil in liquid form.

jaybird22 profile image

jaybird22 4 years ago from New York

I enjoyed the way you told your story of you with the butcher knife as a little girl. I could totally picture it. Good hub!

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Au Fait. It's strange how so many people have psychological problems swallowing pills. The fear just lets the body's reaction take over and block what the body sees as a foreign and possibly dangerous object.

I find if I'm not careful, they stick in my throat resulting in burning of coughing all day.

But a spoonful of honey is best, so the song says...or sugar.

It's also important to take a good mouthful of liquid to allow the pill to proceed on a healthy tide of milk, juice, water or whatever.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Oh you poor thing. Bad enough to need the medicine in the first place but then not be able to swallow it! Sounds like you've had some experiences throughout your life. I don't know if it's my big mouth or what but I've never had a problem. I have had pills that taste awful but never had a problem swallowing them. I even had to swallow a small capsule containing a camera and it went down without a hitch. (VERY small camera) Very well written with some good hints. Voted up, useful and interesting.

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