Obstructed throat: What should I do if a pill is stuck?

11 December 2017
Comments: 0
11 December 2017, Comments: 0

An obstructed throat from a pill in the throat can be a scary ordeal, but rarely considered as a medical emergency.

In most instances, pills end up stuck in the throat since there is not enough moisture to allow the pill to slide down. Pills include gel caps and coated variants that are often hard to swallow without fluids.

Pills are often stuck in the cricopharyngeus muscle or upper sphincter of the esophagus. Individuals with ailments involving this muscle often have a hard time swallowing pills. Generally, young children and the elderly often have a hard time swallowing pills.

Individual with obstructed throat could not breathe

If an individual swallowed a pill but ends up with an obstructed throat and could not breathe, try the five-and-five method or Heimlich maneuver. Before performing either of these, ask someone to call for emergency assistance.

In case the individual loses consciousness, let him/her lie on the ground and clear the airway using your finger if possible. Avoid pushing the pill deeper down the throat.


In case an individual with an obstructed throat is coughing, it indicates that he/she can breathe, and the airway is not fully obstructed.

What should I do if alone?

If alone and a pill results to an obstructed throat, the following steps must be done:

  • Create a fist and position it a level higher than the navel
  • Utilize the free hand to hold onto the fist
  • Bend over on any hard surface such as a railing, chair or table edge
  • Drive the fist into the abdomen in a rapid, upward motion

What should I do if the individual is coughing?

In case an individual with an obstructed throat is coughing, it indicates that he/she can breathe, and the airway is not fully obstructed. Encourage him/her to continue coughing to move the pill out.

Remember that pills should not be left in the throat to dissolve. It might burn the lining of the throat.


There are various ways to prevent pills from obstructing the throat such as:

  • Take the pill together with plenty of fluids. Take in fluids before, throughout and after to ensure that it will not get trapped.
  • Tilt the head forward to provide the throat muscles with enough space to function.
  • The pills should be taken with yogurt, applesauce or gelatin dessert unless the medication should be taken with an empty stomach.
  • Get in touch with a pharmacist or doctor if the pills can be pulverized and combined with food or dissolved with water.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on an obstructed throat is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to manage an obstruction, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Victoria, Surrey, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

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