Monday, October 20, 2008

Stories from my childhood - Phagophobia

hp84 was asking me about the term for fear of swallowing pills, which reminded me of a childhood experience of mine... (yes, story time!)

Fear of swallowing pills = Phagophobia
(Phago = Swallowing) hence the term phagocytes,etc..
Phagophobia is a general term for fear of swallowing/eating
Fear of needles = Aichmophobia

So, when i was a little kid, (okay, maybe not so little) i had this fear of swallowing tablets. While other kids were showing off how they could swallow pills, some even without water, i would tolerate the syrup medication. And yes, the syrup medication tasted terrible (just like medicine!).

I remembered there was this one anti-pyretic medication (syrup paracetamol- for fever) which was pink in color. It smelled like strawberry but it tasted horrible! (i think, the pharmacist probably wanted to make it more acceptable to kids, unfortunately, it didn't work for me) It made me hated that smell, until now.. which explains why i do not drink strawberry-flavour products; eg: strawberry flavoured milk, strawberry-flavoured yogurt, strawberry-flavoured ais-cream, strawberry-flavoured what-eva... I am okay with the strawberry fruit though.. i mean the FRESH, REAL strawberries are good (especially when dipped and coated in melted cholocates)... it somehow tasted less artificial, i suppose... (great, now you think i am picky, to like strawberry fruit, but hated the strawberry-flavoured products)

Anyway, that's beside the point.. back to the story.... like i was saying, i had phagophobia. The pills just refused to go down my throat. Then, the pills melts, or regurgutates upwards, and i end up vomiting out the pill. Sis Benedict, the Philipino maid who babysit me back then, had this marvelous idea. She would asked me to open my mouth widely, and then, she would throw the pills right to the back of my throat, and make me drink a glass of water. The trick worked for a while. But, the problem arises when there is noone to throw that pill into my mouth. Occationally, the pill maybe missed aim, and get stucked at the sides of the mouth. Sometimes, the gag reflexes sets in, giving problems too!

So, today, now that i no longer have problems swallowing tablets, i shall share some tips with you on how to overcome this. This would come in handy if you have a younger bro/sis or a kid with this problem:

1. Phagophobia happens when someone is anxious about taking pills and tenses up. You can try relaxing by sucking on an ice-cube before swallowing, thus numbing your throat and reducing the sensitivity of gag reflexes.

2. RELAX before swallowing. Breathe in and out to calm yourself and reduce the tension.

3. Take a medium sip of water before attempt swollowing.

4. The RIGHT POSITION may help.Put the pill onto the centre of the tongue (yellow spot on picture) and take a big sip of water. Tilt your head slightly backwards, (not too far back) about 30 degrees, then swallow the whole thing down with a gulp.

5. If #4 failed, try tilting the head faster, like a jerk.

6. If #5 also failed, try to put the pill onto the tip of the tongue and take a small sip of water. Instead of tilting your head backwards, tilt your chin downwards towards the chest, eyes looking at your chest. The pill will naturally float upwards, towards the back of the mouth, and get swallowed naturally.

7. You can also try taking your pills with flavoured drinks like yogurt/ribena/fruit juice. It's like tricking your gag reflex to swallow them down.

8. Last but not least, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!! You can practice swallowing by replacing the pills with small sweets easily available from the stores. Start with smaller sweets(eg: tic-tac), and slowly move on to bigger sweets.

9. If the child have phagophobia because of emotional reasons, counsel the child.

10. (open for suggestions)

*Note: a common practice of crushing the pills is NOT advisable.

All the best in overcoming your pills anxiety =)


  1. LOL..i used to ask my mom to throw the pill into my mouth and hope it'll go down th throat straight..

    but that's like at least 12-15 years ago?

  2. yup, i had similar problem too. it went on until i was 15 years old. i used to take several minutes to gulp down a tiny pill:P

  3. yatz & ai-ling>> wow! i didn't know that so many ppl have this problem before.. and i thought i was the minority...

    yatz, i think i had problems swallowing pills till upper primary sch... i never liked pills anyway.. :P

    ai-ling, 15 years old? that's quite a long time... glad to hear that you had managed to overcome it :)

  4. The phagophobia person might end up abuse drugs as well when grow up!agree o not,jocelyn??LOL

  5. hahaha... when i was a kid, i tried to swallow, den end up puking all my food out. den dun dare to eat d till few yrs back. but i cant swallow w/o water.

  6. >cheryl>> haha! so early come tiu yan me liao? there's always a story behind everything ryte? what's your story?? hehe... *curious*

    >m-tequila>> i can't swallow without water too!! really impressed with those people who could. they said that one should increase salivation first (like cephalic phase), to help swallow without water.. but i don't think i want to try that though.. since, there's always water =P

  7. Yea, i have read the post yesterday night. NOw only reply here. Thanks for writing a whole article for me. I appreciate it a lot, and I will try each step till I can swallow tablet. Hopefully I can swallow.
    Thanks again :)

  8. so kesian.. it's so ironic for a pharmacist to have fear of swallowing pills.. and to think you teach patients about pills everyday..... all the best ya.. hope to hear good news from you soon ^^

  9. OMG!! I have the exact same experience too!! The only difference is, I am now fear of all food/drinks/dessert that contain PEACH!! That's nightmare to me =)


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