It seems like there are thousands of different formulations for over-the-counter meds these days—gelcaps, quick-dissolve tabs, and more. And those differences aren’t just to make them look pretty, says Elsa-Grace V. Giardina, MD, a cardiologist, clinical pharmacologist, and professor at Columbia University Medical Center. Some you might see:
•What they do: Soft, flexible gelatin capsules hold liquid—which may be absorbed more quickly than regular pills.
•Good if...you have trouble swallowing meds. “Gelcaps are easier to swallow than hard tablets, though they have to be bigger to fit in the same amount of formula,” says Stephen Ross, MD, a family physician at the Santa Monica–University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center.
(such as Claritin RediTabs; Alavert Orally Disintegrating Tablets)
•What they do: When placed under the tongue, the tablet dissolves, and the medication enters your bloodstream through the mucous membranes in your mouth.
•Good if...you need fast relief. “Medicines that dissolve under the tongue get absorbed quicker than other forms,” Dr. Ross says. Not many companies make meds in this form because it can be hard to make them taste OK.
(such as Advil Coated Tablets; Bayer Safety Coated Aspirin)
•What they do: The smooth coating helps tablets go down easier and can also delay absorption. For instance, Dr. Giardina says, enteric-coated aspirin dissolves in the small intestine rather than the stomach, where it could cause irritation.
•Good if...you have difficulty swallowing traditional tablets, need a time-sensitive med, or take aspirin daily (such as for heart health).