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Posted on Mar 17, 2014 |

Better than a spoonful of sugar: How to swallow pills

Better than a spoonful of sugar: How to swallow pills

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Children are apt to swallow anything from buttons to toy parts or coins when they’re young.

But try and get them to swallow a tiny pill and it can often end in tears and frustration.

So how do you get a young sick child to take tablets?

Parents like Diane Loban know only too well the kind of struggle children put up when faced with taking medicines.

“When they’re poorly, just getting liquid medicine into my boys can be a trial. They would cry and be miserable when it came to antibiotics, particularly the ‘banana’ flavoured ones.

“Now they’re nine and 12, they still aren’t interested in getting the hang of swallowing non-chewable tablets.”

Taste ‘a problem’

A recent study from the Netherlands which was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests that all of the tricks tried by parents and doctors over the years to get medicine into their children – such as grinding up a pill into jam, squirting a plastic syringe-full of medicine into the mouth or simply bribing a child to swallow medicines – are not necessary.

It analysed the acceptability of placebo, or dummy, medicines in various formulations: pills; syrup; suspension; or powder.

Parents were asked to give their children – who were all aged between 1 and 4 years – a pill or spoonful of medicine at home.

Nearly all of the children who took part in the study – 98% of them – were able to swallow the tablets successfully.

But how surprising is this? After all, unless there is a physical problem, we all manage to swallow food and drink effortlessly.

Dr Diana Van Reit-Nales from the the Medicine Evaluation Board in the Netherlands carried out the research.

She believes that the ability to swallow tablets is an important skill to learn – so that they don’t have to always opt for liquid medicines.

“There are so many problems reported by parents and also in the scientific literature related to liquid dosage forms.

“We know that taste may be a problem for the child, sometimes the active substance is not so stable in liquid formulation and as a consequence the liquid medicine has to be stored in a refrigerator.

“Also there is a global problem with storing and transporting liquid medicines.”

‘No physical cause’

This view is echoed by the World Health Organization which would like to promote the use of solid tablets for children – given the issues of storage and the nasty taste of some liquid formulations.

But liquid medicines do serve an important role.