We’ve all been there: You need to take your medication as soon as possible, but you don’t have immediate access to a glass of water. If you’re in a rush or feeling lazy, it can be tempting to take your pills without water, but experts say this is a bad habit to form.
According to Sheila Rivera, a pharmacist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers, and her pharmacy student, Trexie Olivar, dry swallowing medication can pose a potential choking hazard, and there are other dangers to this practice you might not even realize.
“A pill making contact with the lining of the esophagus — the muscular tube that connects your mouth to your stomach — may cause tissue damage and inflammation,” Olivar says.
This may cause difficulty swallowing, bleeding, heartburn or chest pain, which may lead to more complications if left untreated.
Almost any kind of drug can be harmful if not swallowed correctly, but Olivar says pain-relieving medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen; supplements such as potassium chloride and vitamin C; and some antibiotics are among the worst culprits.
Rivera and Olivar recommend drinking a full 8-ounce glass of water when taking medications. Olivar says a full glass of water is best because taking just one or two sips can also cause harm.
“Not drinking enough water may also cause throat irritation and, in some cases, prevent a medication from working properly,” she says.
Dry swallowing pills isn’t the only common medicine mishap. Rivera shares some other habits that can prevent medication from working properly and offers advice on how you can help correct them.
Always take your medication as directed.
Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to take medication regularly, but skipping days or not taking the full dose can affect the way medication works.
“The best way to remember to take your medication on time is to stay organized,” Rivera says. “Keep your pills in a noticeable place or set reminders on your phone. Find a system that works best for you.”
Take your medication even when you don’t have noticeable symptoms.
Even if your fever or cough subsides, there can still be underlying issues you may not physically feel.
“Continue to take your medicine even if symptoms have improved. This is especially important for medications to help lower blood pressure or treat high cholesterol,” Rivera says.
According to the American Heart Association, many cardiovascular conditions don’t have symptoms that you can identify without a doctor-ordered test or blood pressure reading. Develop the healthy habit of taking your pills as directed until they are done or you are prescribed a refill.
Ask your doctor before taking multiple medications at once.
“Inform your doctor and pharmacist of all the medications you are taking since drug interactions can change the way a medication works. It is important to include both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications so that your pharmacist can advise if there are interactions between them,” Rivera says.
If you have questions about how to take your medications, consult your primary care doctor or a Sharp pharmacist.