Why You Should Never Swallow Pills Without Water

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Woman taking a pill without water
Scary Mommy and Guido Mieth/Getty

My husband has a habit that makes me want to vomit. No, it’s not the fact that he leaves his dirty socks on the kitchen counter sometimes. It’s not the several-months-old, bacteria-infested coffee cups I sometimes find in the car. It’s not the way he slurps his soup (though that comes in a close second).

My husband swallows pills with absolutely no water, and it’s completely appalling.

I have no idea how he does this. I need almost an entire cup of water to swallow each pill or vitamin that I take. I can only take pills if they have a gel capsule or are coated. I guess I just have a very sensitive gag reflex or something.

Sometimes it takes me several tries to get my pills down, even with water. So I have no idea what superhuman (or alien) esophagus my husband was born with. When he swallows his pills, he doesn’t even need a single sip. No struggling to move the damn pills down. Just—gulp—and the pill is gone.

The sound of that dry gulp is definitely vomit-worthy and I hate being in the room when it happens. What kind of weird creature did I marry?

Well, recently, my husband got an ear infection. Suddenly he was dry downing several pills a day. First meds for the pain, and antibiotics for the infection. Then, antihistamines were added to the mix, because he had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics.

I was witnessing him dry swallowing these damn pills around the clock and I’d had enough. So I went on Facebook (because of course I did) to complain. I learned two things which totally surprised me.

First of all, my husband is apparently not the only one. Several friends of mine do this too, or they have spouses who do this. Most of my friends with spouses or other loved ones who do this find it as strange, off-putting, and gag-worthy as I do.

But what really took me by surprise—and what I think I suspected somewhere in the back of my mind—is that dry swallowing pills is actually not healthy, and could be dangerous.

My doctor friend pointed out that without water to wash them down, pills can get stuck in the esophagus and cause damage. Other friends of mine pointed out (rightly) that most medication instructions suggest that you take the pills with a cup of water. (I always knew I was more of a rule follower than my husband.)

Another friend recalled a time when her father (who happened to be a doctor) got an antibiotic stuck in his throat, after having swallowed pills dry all his life. “It caused a really painful ulceration of his esophagus that took a long time to heal,” she said. “He never did it again and warned us never to do it!”


Getty Images

Holy crap, that’s terrifying. WTAF.

But don’t just take my friends’ word for it. Healthline verifies that this shit is absolutely true.

Swallowing pills without water “increases your chances for the pill getting stuck in your esophagus,” Healthline explains. “Some medications can irritate the lining of your esophagus if they become lodged there or take too long on the trip down to your stomach,” they add.

Not only that, but Healthline explains that if you don’t take water with your pill, it may not work as quickly or as effectively … which is definitely not something you want to happen when you are taking a medication!

You can bet that I relayed all of this information to my husband. His reaction was, “Okay, I’ll drink water with my pills, but that’s kind of a pain.” Ummm, I think it would be a much bigger pain if you had to haul your ass to the ER because a Benadryl was stuck in your esophagus. But, okay.

I think secretly, my husband thinks he’s some kind of badass for swallowing pills without water. I beg to differ, of course.

I get it, though. Old habits are definitely hard to break. But I’m determined to make sure my husband breaks this one—both for his health, and for my sanity.

Because, I swear, if I have to watch him dry swallow another pill in my lifetime, I’m gonna lose my shit. Or barf up my lunch. Either way, it won’t be pretty.

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