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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