Why Is It Painful To Swallow? 7 Possible Causes


January 18, 2023


Why Is It Painful To Swallow? 7 Possible Causes

We take swallowing for granted. It comes naturally and can be an annoyance when it becomes painful. Not only is swallowing an automatic response to drinking and eating, but you frequently swallow your saliva throughout the day. Whenever your throat feels scratchy, you most likely gear up with throat lozenges or herbal teas to ease the pain.

Not all sore throats cause painful swallowing, and not all swallowing issues derive from bacterial infections. While there’s a low chance your swallowing issues are a severe health risk, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

The doctors at Allergy & ENT Associates specialize in treating all ENT disorders and want you to know the varying causes of a sore throat and painful swallowing. Here are seven possible reasons why it’s painful to swallow.

Possible Causes for a Sore Throat

Strep Throat

Throat infections are common causes of pain while swallowing. A bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes cause strep throat, which can easily transmit from one person to the next when the infected individual talks, coughs, or sneezes. People who have strep throat may experience the following:

  • White patches on the tonsils
  • Swollen and sore lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Pain and red spots on the soft palate


Tonsillitis is the inflammation and infection of the tonsils and lymph nodes at the back of the throat. This condition is known for causing painful swallowing in affected individuals. Strep throat and other viruses or bacterial infections can contribute to tonsillitis.

If you experience tonsillitis, you also experience these symptoms:

  • Swollen tonsils
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Sore neck or jaw
  • White spots on the tonsils


Any condition that irritates the esophagus will most likely cause painful swallowing. The esophagus carries food and liquid from your mouth to the stomach. Unfortunately, you can experience inflammation in the esophagus due to allergic reactions, acid reflux, infections, or medications. Along with painful swallowing, you may experience:

  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach aches
  • Hoarse voice

Sinus Infection

As stated before, a sore throat and painful swallowing can derive from a cold, flu, or sinus infection. With a sinus infection, you can experience painful swallowing from attempts at clearing your throat of drainage. Doing this frequently can cause irritation and painful swallowing until the infection subsides.

Throat Injury

Another possible cause of painful swallowing can be a throat injury. Eating or drinking something too hot can burn the inside of your mouth and throat. You can also scratch or cut the back of your throat by eating items with sharp edges, like chips.

Ear Infection

Ear infections can come in many different forms and with various symptoms. Your ear may throb for hours, or you may only feel pain when coughing or sneezing. Other cases can cause painful swallowing. Ear pain and painful swallowing are common with a middle ear infection. The canals in the middle ear connect to the upper throat and nasal cavity, making it hard to release pressure if there’s a blockage.

Oral Thrush

A yeast infection called oral thrush can appear in the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Bacteria and candida are responsible for the uncomfortable feeling when swallowing. With oral thrush, you may also notice the following:

  • A loss of taste
  • White patches on the tongue
  • The corners of the lips are red, dry, or cracked

Ways To Prevent a Sore Throat

You can take a few preventative actions against a sore throat and painful swallowing. It’s always best to practice good hygiene and avoid encountering the germs that cause illness. Here are a few ways to prevent a sore throat:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoiding touching public fountains with your mouth
  • Using alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Avoiding sharing foods, drinks, and utensils
  • Not touching your face, especially your mouth, eyes, and nose
  • Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds

Treatments for Painful Swallowing

Treatments for painful swallowing can vary depending on the level and cause of pain. Antibiotics and throat-numbing mouthwash are common treatments ENTs give their patients. The numbing agent subsides the pain while taking antibiotic pills. If you have a severe sore throat, your ENT may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications.

Treatments at Allergy & ENT Associates are personalized to you and your condition. You can also do home remedies to relieve painful swallowing temporarily.

Breathe in Moist Air

A humidifier has many perks, including reducing the chances of nasal congestion and sore throats. This machine converts water to air moisture to increase the humidity in a room. Breathing in moist air will ease inflammation in the throat and relieve pain. A hot shower can have a similar effect if you don’t have a humidifier.

Drink Herbal Tea

Sipping warm herbal teas with honey will relieve swelling and pain in the throat. Although there’s no scientific proof, green tea, turmeric tea, licorice root tea, and slippery elm tea are a few examples of popular teas that are known for helping you feel better. You can find these teas are your local grocery or drug store.

Home Remedies

Another way to treat a sore throat and painful swallowing is by using over-the-counter medicines and home remedies. If your sore throat isn’t severe, you may save yourself a doctor’s visit ad use the items in your home to relieve pain.

Drinking plenty of fluids will keep you hydrated while soothing and moistening your throat. Drinking at least eight cups of water a day will help solve your problem. Gargling saltwater in the back of your throat will also reduce swelling and pain. It’s best to avoid smoking with a sore throat to prevent the smoke from irritating and worsening the pain.

When To See a Doctor

Painful swallowing typically resolves after a few days to a week, especially if you’re experiencing a common cold or an allergy flair-up. If your sore throat and painful swallowing persist, it’s best to see a professional to determine the cause and provide adequate treatment.

You should see a doctor if any of the following points are relevant to you:

  • The cause of pain is unknown
  • The pain is getting worse
  • The pain lasted more than a week
  • You see a patch of white spots in the back of your throat
  • You’re experiencing unusual drooling
  • You have difficulty breathing
  • You have a problem opening your mouth

Possible Risk Factors To Consider

Anyone can get a sore throat, but a few factors make you more susceptible:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Allergies
  • Age; children ages 3 to 15 are most likely to experience painful swallowing and sore throats
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Exposure to chemical irritants
  • Chronic sinus infections

If over-the-counter medicine and home remedies are only helping temporarily, you may need to book an appointment with your local ENT professional. Allergy & ENT Associates has 18 locations in the Houston area dedicated to treating individuals with ENT disorders. Book an appointment with us today to get answers to all of your questions and concerns. We’re passionate about helping our patients with our expertise and knowledge.

For questions or additional information, contact us today at (713) 561-3504.

Why Is It Painful To Swallow? 7 Possible Causes

This entry was posted in ENT on January 18, 2023 by AENT Team.

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