If you spend much time on Youtube or social media, you’ve probably heard of the thick water challenge, but what is thick water? 

For the more than 13 million Americans who experience difficulty swallowing, thick water provides a safe and effective way to stay hydrated. By increasing the viscosity of thin liquids like tap water, juice, or soda it’s possible to slow down their flow rate, lowering the risk of coughing, choking, and aspiration pneumonia.

As you age, the 50 pairs of muscles and nerves responsible for helping you swallow experience wear-and-tear. Over time, these changes can cause the muscles to atrophy, making it difficult to keep food or liquids down. Thickening agents help make consumption easy and hassle-free.

In this blog, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of thick water, including what it is, who can benefit, and where to buy it.

What is Thick Water?

Thick water is a beverage specifically designed for people with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). You can purchase pre-thickened water or you can thicken drinking water at home with over-the-counter thickening agents.

Increasing the viscosity of thin liquids, like water, makes them easier to swallow. For seniors with a sensitive gag reflex or neurological conditions that make eating and drinking difficult, thick water allows for proper hydration. In addition, it prevents liquid from entering the trachea, allowing for proper digestion and more enjoyable mealtimes.

Who Can Benefit From Thickened Water?

Anyone who experiences difficulty swallowing can benefit from thickened water. However, before you start administering it to a loved one, it’s important to consult with a qualified medical professional.

Typically, swallowing issues are diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist. To determine if your elderly loved one is at risk, the specialist assesses their facial and oral structure and watches them eat and drink. If these measures don’t provide enough information, they might also order a fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) or a modified barium swallow (MBS).

Some of the most common medical conditions that cause swallowing problems include:

  • Acid reflux and GERD

  • Inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis)

  • Thyroid nodules

  • Stroke

  • Spinal cord injuries

Your loved one might also experience difficulty swallowing if they’re living with a neurological condition like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or dementia.

What Ingredients Are Used to Thicken Water?

There are several types of agents used to thicken water, but they fall into two distinct categories:

Starch-based thickeners

Starch is a white, tasteless powder that quickly dissolves into various liquids. Starch-based thickeners are easy to mix but require immediate consumption. Left to sit, starch-thickened beverages become increasingly chunky and difficult to swallow. 

Gum-based thickeners

Gum-based thickeners are made from natural products like xanthan, a type of fermented sugar. Unlike starch thickeners, they have a tendency to clump, so it’s important to mix them thoroughly.

Gum thickeners maintain the same consistency over time, so you can refrigerate or save them for later.

Caregiver Tip

The type of thickener that’s right for your loved one depends on their personal preference and taste. You may need to try several types of thick water before finding a product that aligns with their needs.

What Does Thickened Water Taste Like?

Thickened water tastes very similar to regular tap or bottled water, the only real difference is the consistency. Many people compare its viscosity to aloe vera gel. You can easily pour and swallow thickened water, but its mouthfeel is noticeably more chunky.

Because thickened water contains additives, many people become full quicker than they normally would. To make the transition from thin to thick fluids as easy as possible, start with small glasses.

Hear it from a caregiver

"Try mixing in flavor additives like lemon juice or stevia. When my grandfather was still getting used to thickened water this was the only way we could get him to drink it." - Michelle Y.

Where Can I Buy Thickened Water?

Thickened water products are available at most grocery stores and pharmacies. We also carry a number of products right here on the Carewell website. Below, we’ve listed several of our most popular offerings:

Thick & Easy® Hydrolyte Thickened Water, Nectar Consistency

Thick & Easy Hydrolyte Thickened Water has a nectar-like consistency and adheres to Level 2 guidelines established by International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI). It’s made from water, high fructose corn syrup, and modified food starch and comes pre-mixed, ready to drink.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Refreshing

  • Easy to swallow

  • Lightly flavored with lemon

  • Contains a clear thickener, allowing for a natural tap water appearance

Thick-It® Clear Advantage Thickened Water

Thick-It Clear Advantage thickened water contains only five calories per serving. It’s unflavored, has a nectar-like consistency, and comes pre-packed in bottles, ready for consumption. 

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Made from pure Artesian mineral water

  • Pre-thickened for the perfect consistency

  • Easy to mix into hot or cold beverages

  • Can be combined with powdered milk, broth, or drink mixes

Thick & Easy® Hydrolyte Thickened Water, Honey Consistency

Thick & Easy Hydrolyte thickened water comes in three different sizes –– cups, bottles, and containers. It’s lightly flavored with lemon and boasts a honey-like consistency that adheres to Level 3 guidelines established by IDDSI. 

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Refreshing

  • Easy to swallow

  • Lemon flavored

  • Contains a clear thickener, allowing for a natural tap water appearance

Thick & Easy Hydrolyte Thickened Water
Thick & Easy Hydrolyte Thickened Water

Price: $12.91 - $38.86

Can You Make Thick Water at Home?

If you aren’t interested in purchasing pre-thickened water, it’s possible to make your own at home. We offer several all-natural thickening agents in our online store, including: 

Thick-It® Food & Drink Thickener, Unflavored

Thick-It brand thickening agents have been on the market for more than 30 years. This particular product is corn-starch based and easy to mix into almost any beverage, including water. You can add more or less to change the consistency of your loved one’s favorite drinks.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Dissolves instantly

  • Helps reduce the risk of choking and aspiration

  • Gluten-free

  • Kosher Parve

  • Easy to digest

Thick-It Food & Drink Thickener, Unflavored
Thick-It Food & Drink Thickener, Unflavored

Price: $6.95 - $122.70

SimplyThick® Easy Mix™ Food and Beverage

SimplyThick Easy Mix is a gum-based thickener that comes in a 1.6-liter bottle attached to a pump. It’s unflavored and can be mixed to any consistency, including nectar, honey, or pudding-like. 

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Allows for maximum flexibility when thickening food or drinks

  • Pump releases six grams of thickening agent per stroke

  • Only five calories per serving

What if I still have questions about thickened water?

Caring for a loved one who has difficulty swallowing presents a variety of challenges. Selecting the right thickener can be a daunting task, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the various brands, product offerings, and consistencies. 

We understand, which is why our friendly Care Team is easy to get a hold of. Contact them via phone at (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com.

For more information about thickening agents, read: What Are Food and Drink Thickeners?

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.