Drugs Taste Bad

Jun 16, 2020

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

A group of beautiful, dark haired people sit around a table laughing and chatting. The table is outside on a balcony. The scene is sun drenched. The view overlooks a mountain village and the ocean. The group of beautiful people is sharing a meal. They poke the contents of a can of Rio Mare tuna with a stick. Why? Why would you ever poke tuna with a stick? I guarantee unlike putting a hot dog on a stick, putting tuna on a stick and cooking it over a fire won't work. Who uses a stick as a kitchen utensil? Is kitchen stick use so common in Italy that it seems normal to use it as a prop in a TV commercial?

My family says I obsess over the Rio Mare stick commercial. No matter how good Rio Mare is, I am too distracted by the stick to think about if the tuna tastes good. In pharmacy world, some medications definitely don't taste good. In fact, some medications taste bad. Let's talk about how we can make things go down a little easier. Step one: pills taste better than liquids. I know many children and some adults can't swallow pills. However, liquid medications spread the bad medicine flavor over your entire mouth. Then it will take time to get the bad taste out of your mouth. Pills zip over your tongue and are gone quickly. Pills leave minimal residual taste behind. If the patient is on the fence about whether they can swallow a pill or not, it is often better to try the pill because the taste will be better.

Many of the medications we get complaints about when it comes to taste are antibiotics. Antibiotics like metronidazole, clarithromycin and levofloxacin can cause metallic or abnormal tastes. For adults, their medication is already in pill form, so the medication will go over the tongue quickly. Sometimes it is the smell that is actually bothering the patient. You can try things like plugging your nose when you swallow the tablet. That might help a bit. Then we look for patient buy-in. We can usually reason with adults. Antibiotics are usually only given for 5-10 days. I'm not saying the patient is going to be happy for that week-ish with a bad taste in their mouth, but they have a bacterial infection. They have a sore ear, or sinuses or a skin wound that won't heal. If the infection is caused by bacteria, there is a good chance the infection won't go away without the antibiotic. But if they finish their antibiotics and put up with the bad taste, when they go off of the antibiotics, the bad taste will go away.

It is different with children. If you can't get the antibiotic into the child because of the taste, I've got a few tricks for you to try. Many antibiotics for kids are liquids. Sometimes things like giving the antibiotic liquid to the kid as cold as possible can reduce the taste of the antibiotic. Sometimes quickly sucking the liquid antibiotic up through a straw gets it over the tongue and down better. Sucking on a cold popsicle or ice cubes before the antibiotic dose can numb the taste buds. Coating the inside of the mouth by eating a spoonful of chocolate, maple syrup or peanut butter before the dose can help. There are lots and lots of good reasons not to give children soft drinks or pop like Coke, Pepsi and Sprite, from diabetes to tooth decay. But pop, especially cola, is a great antibiotic bribe. Kids usually love it, and cola is great at washing tastes out of the mouth. Often if you tell a child that if they take and swallow their antibiotic that they can have a sip of pop to wash it down, that can work really well. And I said a sip, not two liters of pop. Please tell the dentists not to be angry at me and get the child to brush their teeth afterwards. Another trick that Nicole from the pharmacy has come up with is honey. Try crushing the antibiotic tablet or capsule into the middle of a spoonful of honey. Then the child takes the whole teaspoon of honey. The sticky, sweet honey seems to get the bitter pill over the tongue and down the throat with considerably less trouble.

Statins like atorvastatin are used to treat high cholesterol. They can distort or dull taste or cause a dry mouth. It seems like the reduction of cholesterol caused by the atorvastatin interferes with taste neurons working properly. The good news is this happens in less than 1% of people using atorvastatin. But we have no good reports about how long these taste disturbances will last. Before we try switching drugs, it would be reasonable to try an artificial saliva like Biotene. Biotene can really help with a dry mouth.

Zopiclone can cause a bitter, metallic taste. Zopiclone is taken at bedtime to help someone sleep. Zopiclone's taste in the mouth the next morning does come up in the pharmacy often. One of my standard answers is if you drink something plain like water the next day, it tends to make the taste worse. If you drink something acidic like orange juice, it tends to make the taste go away.

Being a semi-obsessed crazy person can pay off. I haven't seen it yet, but one night last week my wife and daughter told me Rio Mare had listened to annoyed people like me. Instead the commercial of just saying Rio Mare was Italy's favorite tuna, now the commercial proclaimed the tuna was "soft enough to be cut with a bread stick"! So it is a bread stick, not a tree stick. That sure is a funny looking bread stick. Remind me to avoid weird looking bread sticks if I visit Italy. Okay, I can stop with the tuna on a stick obsession. Now, let me tell you how wrong it is for a little girl to buy a Cadbury chocolate bar with a few buttons and toys.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.


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