The Horrible Fear of Swallowing Pills for Teenagers

My daughter has been unable to swallow pills for the past few years.  This is due to the fact that she ended up chocking on one in the past.  Since then, she has been paralyzed with fear that she will choke again if she takes another one.  Using the word paralyzed may seem extreme but in her eyes she just could not do it.  As she said to me once,  if she had the choice to die or take a pill, she would chose death.  No joke.

She would go on the internet and was amazed that this was not an uncommon issue for many teens.  She tried all the suggestions that were offered but to no avail.  She would even watch You Tube videos and still no progress.  She felt that at this age (14), she should be able to swallow pills but something was holding her back.

As a parent,  I tried everything I could think of to help her get over her fear but it was not working.  She finally asked if she could see someone to help her get over this fear.  My employer has an employee’s assistance program so I decided to take advantage of it and made her an appointment.  She was happy that the appointment was finally made but also was scared and unsure since she did not know what counseling was all about.  I was permitted to stay with her for the first session. She actually wanted me to be with her for all 3 sessions.  Yes, just 3 sessions is all it took for her to finally be able to swallow pills.  This is not to say she is totally over her fear but she has learned some techniques for her to manage her fear to enable her to swallow pills.
She has so graciously allowed me to share her story since she really hopes to help someone else who is in this same situation.  Having the counselor talk to her, examine the root of her fear, make her see her issue from a totally objective viewpoint and allowing her to to come up with her own suggestions, really worked for her.  We will share the top suggestions that made the most impact for her.
1.  Visualizing how she would feel once she took the pill.  For my daughter, she has been suffering through massive menstrual cramping for the past few years.  Since she could not take pills, there was really nothing I could offer her that she wanted to do.  Having her visualize herself as being pain free was one thing that helped.  Amazingly, when she did swallow Midol and the pain disappeared, this helped to reinforce this point for her.
2.  Not over thinking the swallowing part at all.  If she did not take the time to think about it and just drank a big glass of water with the pill, the pill would naturally be swallowed.
3.  Understanding that drug companies would not make pills that would lodge in the throat or get stuck.  This was a huge eye opener for my daughter.  Knowing this made her then believe that the pill was designed to be swallowed, not stuck.
4.  Visualizing that the throat is big and the pill is small.  This is one that she really wanted to emphasize as being very helpful.
5.  Coughing is a natural reflex when something goes down the wrong tube.  My daughter did not realize that this is the body’s natural mechanism to prevent us from having something stuck in our throats.
6.  Having me physically present.  She just needed me there “just in case”.  I did not watch her since I did not want her feeling pressured to succeed.  I was just doing whatever I would normally be doing in her presence but giving her the assurance if anything went wrong that she was not alone.  We could manage it together.
She is really lucky that 3 sessions was all she needed to help her manage her fear.  So far, things have been going really well but she could relapse again.  The counselor instructed her to remember the above techniques to help her manage her fear if it resurfaced and to come back for more counselling if needed.  I think having the option to go back to counseling is an amazing one.  She could do it for this issue or for something else she may be struggling with in her life.  Having someone listen to you and help you work through your problems with no judgement, is extremely valuable.  Just know that if your child is also struggling with swallowing pills, counseling is one option that you should consider.  You are not alone.  As parents, we just need to support one another and share our successes and failures and keep trying to find what works for our children.