A Sore Throat When Swallowing: Causes and How to Relieve It

Do you suffer from a sore throat when swallowing? We'll you what's behind it and what you can do to treat it.
A Sore Throat When Swallowing: Causes and How to Relieve It

Last update: 27 May, 2022

A sore throat when swallowing is something everyone experiences at least once in their lives. Most of the time it’s a one-off occurrence, often due to rapid swallowing or certain ingredients. However, when it becomes more frequent, it’s likely to be due to an underlying condition. Today, we’ll give you some insight into it and what to do to treat it.

The medical term for this condition is odynophagia, and it can also occur after ingesting certain liquids. It can develop with varying degrees of intensity and when it lasts for several days or weeks it can really affect people’s quality of life. Ideally, you should seek medical assistance for a diagnosis, although in the following article we’ll explain its main causes and how to alleviate it.

Main causes of a sore throat when swallowing

Researchers agree that a diagnostic process is essential in order to find the real causes of dysphagia and odynophagia. It isn’t our intention to replace seeing a medical practitioner, just simply to guide you on how serious or benign these episodes can be. So, without further ado, here are five causes of a sore throat when swallowing.

1. Streptococcal pharyngitis

Also called strep throat, this is the main cause of a sore throat when swallowing. It’s a bacterial condition that causes inflammation, pain, and irritation in the pharynx. It’s most common in children, although it can affect people of all ages.

Read more in this article: Sore Throat Relief Options

This condition is accompanied by fever, red spots at the back of the throat, swollen tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, and a headache. According to researchers, up to 30% of cases are caused by group A streptococcus.

2. Globus pharyngeus

A woman with a sore throat.
Patients with globus pharyngeus often experience difficulty swallowing or dysphagia. This is sometimes accompanied by pain.

Globus pharyngis, also known as globus pharyngeus, is the sensation of having something lodged in the throat. Patients describe it as a “partial blockage,” which sometimes triggers anxiety, stress and pain when swallowing food. All of this manifests even if the person has no obvious physical problem.

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It’s a very annoying condition and difficult to treat, partly because there’s no real trigger. Some patients may also report choking, even though their pharynx and larynx are completely free of any obstruction.

3. Environmental dryness

One cause you probably haven’t thought of is environmental dryness. Dry indoor air can cause your throat to dry out. This will result in its walls acquiring a rough texture, which can interact negatively with food during swallowing.

Dry air can also interfere with the production of saliva, which will further hinder this process. As a consequence, you may experience a sore throat when swallowing, as the food transit will be slower and the friction with the walls of the pharynx will be greater. The absence of moisture or increased temperature may be behind it.

4. Allergies

Allergies to pet dander, pollen, dust mites or dust are more common than people think. The symptoms are very varied, and their intensity depends on sensitivity. A common sign is swelling of the throat, which causes pain and irritation when eating or drinking.

You can develop this sign independently of more obvious signs such as watery eyes, nasal congestion, and difficulty breathing. A severe reaction is called anaphylaxis. This requires immediate attention because it’s life-threatening.

5. Gastroesophageal reflux

A sore chest.
Although rare, damage to the esophageal mucosa from chronic, recurrent gastroesophageal reflux can cause pain when swallowing.

Gastroesophageal reflux causes heartburn in the epigastrium (the abdominal area known as the pit of the stomach), chest pain, nausea, vomiting, and a sore throat when swallowing. It’s a chronic disease, and it will get worse over time (especially in the absence of treatment). Other possible causes of a sore throat when swallowing include the following:

  • Muscle contracture
  • Epiglottitis
  • Infections (measles, chickenpox, mononucleosis, flu and others)
  • Sinusitis
  • Tonsillitis
  • Injuries or trauma in the throat area
  • Laryngitis
  • Fungal infections (such as candidiasis)
  • Crohn’s disease

A less likely cause is certain types of cancer. Throat cancer and esophageal cancer can cause a sore throat when swallowing. However, this condition is far more likely to be caused by the conditions discussed above.

How to relieve a sore throat when swallowing

Since most episodes are caused by bacterial infections, the best treatment for a sore throat when swallowing is antibiotics. However, the options vary according to the clinical diagnosis. To rule out parallel or more serious conditions, we encourage you to seek medical attention.

When the trigger is viral, experts usually decide to wait for the body to eliminate the virus on its own, or a symptomatic treatment will be prescribed. Chronic conditions such as reflux require ongoing treatment that varies according to the characteristics of the condition (frequency, intensity, parallel symptoms, and so on).

In addition to treatment, patients can also take into account a series of habits that can minimize these complications. Here are some habits that you should include in your daily life:

  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching mucous membranes with them.
  • Accompany food with liquid, preferably water.
  • Chew food correctly and avoid swallowing it quickly.
  • Avoid using very spicy ingredients or strong seasonings that can irritate the lining of the pharynx.
  • Reduce the use of throat sprays. Although helpful, too much of them can cause irritation.
  • Avoid talking while chewing.

These practical tips will be useful to minimize these episodes. However, if it’s a recurring situation, don’t hesitate to consult a specialist. Self-medication can be tempting, but the guidance of a professional will be essential for moderate/severe signs and a persistent sore throat when swallowing.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bisno, A. L., & Kaplan, E. L. Strep throat over and over: How frequent? How real?. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2006; 81 (9): 1153-1154.
  • Zavala, S. R., & Katz, P. O. Dysphagia and odynophagia. Textbook of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2012;  11-15.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.