Oral Medications – How to Take it Properly

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Oral Medications – How to Take it Properly

The most common way people take medications is by mouth. Depending on what your physician prescribed, your oral medication can be  chewed, swallowed, or placed under your tongue to dissolve.

Medications that you swallow travel from your intestine into your bloodstream and then are carried to all parts of the body. This process is called as absorption. The speed with which absorption occurs depends on several factors:

  • How your medication reacts with the acid conditions in your stomach
  • Whether your medication interacts with other medications you are taking at the same time
  • The type of medication you are taking (e.g., liquid or tablet)
  • The ability of your medication to pass into your bloodstream (Some medications have a special coating and dissolve slowly in your stomach.)
  • Whether you take your medication with food, after food or on an empty stomach

If a quick effect is desired, your doctor may prescribe a medication that will dissolve in your mouth and rapidly enter your bloodstream.

Table of Contents
  • Tablets and Capsules
  • Liquid Medications
  • Sublingual/Buccal
  • Other Forms
  • Swallowing Pills

Tablets and Capsules

In general, you should take tablets and capsules with water. Milk can block the absorption of many antibiotics, such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and if take certain pills, such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Viagra (sildenafil), with grapefruit juice can cause potentially dangerous side effects.

Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you whether to take your medication on an empty stomach or before or after eating. This information is very important because digesting food can interfere with your medication dissolving and passing into your bloodstream. Always follow the directions on your prescription.

Never crush, break, or chew any capsule or tablet unless directed to by your physician or pharmacist. Many medications are long-acting or have a special coating and must be swallowed whole. If you have any questions about this, please ask your physician or pharmacist.

If you have trouble swallowing your medication, tell your physician and pharmacist. They may be able to provide you with a liquid form of the medication or a pill that is smaller and easier to swallow.

Sublingual and Buccal Medications

Certain medications are placed under the tongue (sublingual) or between the teeth and the cheek (buccal). These medications are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth and are used to relieve symptoms almost immediately.

Some examples of sublingual medications are Nitrostat and other nitroglycerin preparations used to treat angina (chest pain) and Suboxone (buprenorphine with naloxone), which is used to treat dependence on heroin and/or narcotic painkillers.

Liquid Medications

Liquid medications are good for children and adults (especially older adults) who are not able to swallow tablets or capsules.

Many liquid medications, including both prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, are made for children and are flavored to mask the taste of the medication. Additionally, many pharmacies can add different flavoring to liquid medications without an additional prescription by the doctor.

Before measuring the proper dose of liquid medication, make sure to shake the bottle as some of the medication may have “settled” at the bottom.

Most often, you’ll be given medication measurements in teaspoons (remember that teaspoons are smaller than tablespoons). In medicine, a teaspoon means exactly 5 milliliters (ml).

Your household teaspoons may hold more or less than 5 ml. Ask your pharmacist for a spoon, medicine cup, medicine dropper, or a syringe without a needle meant specifically for measuring medications. They can show you how to properly use these.

Many over-the-counter liquid medications come with a small medicine cup attached to the top of the bottle.

f the medication has been prescribed for an infant or young child, make sure to speak with your pediatrician about the proper dosage, or amount, of liquid medication for your child.

Other Forms of Oral Medications

Although most oral medications are swallowed, some are released in the mouth by chewing, dissolving slowly or melting on the tongue. Many of these medications are sold over-the-counter.

Chewable Tablets

Chewable tablets should be chewed until they have completely dissolved. They’re not meant to be swallowed whole.

Examples of chewable tablets include Tylenol Chewable and many brands of children’s vitamins.

Softchew Medications

Softchew medications are meant to melt in your mouth or to be chewed.

An example of a Softchew medication is Rolaids Soft Chew (calcium carbonate).


Lozenges are meant to be “sucked” on like hard candy and allowed to dissolve slowly in your mouth. They should not be swallowed.

Examples of medicated lozenges include Commit (nicotine) and Cepacol (benzocaine).

Chewing Gum Medications

Chewing gum medications have a minimum time that they must be chewed to ensure that the entire amount of drug has been released, often up to 30 minutes.

Examples of medicated chewing gums include Nicorette Gum (nicotine) and Aspergum (aspirin).

On a final note, always read the instructions carefully and take your medications as recommended. If you have any concerns or doubts, please contact your physician or pharmacist.

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