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What are the Causes of Pain when Swallowing Food? Treatment for Painful Swallowing

Both women and men can develop many types of illnesses owing to factors like genetics, diet and lifestyle and sometimes these can happen owing to things beyond their control. Sometimes, certain physical conditions affecting your body can be indicative of diverse types of ailments. Knowing about these symptoms can be beneficial for prompt diagnosis and proper treatment. One such instance is the sensation of pain when swallowing. This can happen to people from almost all age groups.

What are the Causes of Pain when Swallowing Food?

The sensation of pain when you swallow food can be caused by various factors. The commonplace ones are:

  • Flu
  • Common cold
  • Throat infections
  • Tonsillitis
  • Acid reflux
  • Ear infection

In rare situations, painful swallowing may be indicative of esophageal cancer.

Learning about Various Types of Pains Occurring During Swallowing

You may feel pain in various body organs when swallowing foods- owing to several root factors. The painful sensation may affect the body parts like neck, chest, ear and stomach. The root causes may be common infections and they can also indicate onset of severe disorders.

Ear Pain When Swallowing Food

If you feel painful sensation in the ears when you eat foods it could be owing to an ear infection. This can be caused by virus or a bacterium. The pain is caused by swelling and fluid buildup inside ear canal. Sometimes, you may have pain from ear infection but that pain can get severe when you swallow foods. The pain when swallowing on one side may happen or it can radiate from one side to another. Sometimes, the ear infection leading to pain in swallowing can have root in related organs such as nose.

Neck Pain When Swallowing Food

Some people may experience pain in neck when eating foods and the causes can be numerous. This can be caused by a throat infection. However, swollen lymph glands including the tonsil can be the reason behind it. However, throat injury and esophageal scarring may also be among its cause.

Stomach Pain When Swallowing Food

If you feel stomach pain when you eat foods or immediately after it- there could be something wrong with your digestive system. It can be felt in mid-abdomen region. It may be triggered by an esophagus-related condition named Achalasia. It disrupts flow of food into stomach. Esophagitis is another condition that leads to stomach pain when swallowing. It is basically inflammation of esophagus- muscular tube which acts as carrier of food from the mouth to stomach. In some instances, Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD may lead to this.

Diagnosing the Root Causes of Pain When Eating foods

Based on the symptoms, the diagnosis process for finding causes of pain when eating foods can vary. The below listed tests are carried out:

  • The doctor may carry out complete blood count test to find details of all types of blood cells in the body. This help the doctor identify of the source of pain is any bacteria or virus.
  • CT scans and MRI tests can be carried out to examine throat and neck condition. These can detect swelling of glands inside throat.
  • A sputum culture may be carried out too.
  • The x-ray test for esophagus or barium swallow test can be carried out to check condition of the esophagus.

Apart from carrying out these tests for diagnosis for pain when eating foods, the doctor will ask you various medical questions and examine your medical history in detail. It is always better if you keep medical records handy.

Treatment Options for Painful Swallowing

The treatment options for painful swallowing can vary and the doctor examines the source of pain before suggesting any remedy.

  • OTC Medications: Some throat infections leading to pain in eating foods can be resolved by using anti bacterial mouthwash solutions. Similarly, some OTC ear drops can be used to cure ear infections that cause painful sensation when swallowing foods. Sometimes, the doctor may advise using antibiotic to cure such infections. Inflammation reducing drugs may also be given in some cases. To reduce acid reflux caused painful swallowing- antacid type medications are given.
  • Herbal and Home Remedies: If a mild infection is causing pain when you eat foods, using herbs with anti bacterial properties can be helpful. Sometimes you may take these herbs when in taking medications. Using honey and ginger infused warm water for gargling can help reduce throat infection or inflammation of esophagus -for example. To treat tonsillitis-the doctors often advise gargling with warm saline water and taking medications.
  • Surgical Intervention: While this may not be required in a majority of cases of pain when swallowing -sometimes surgery may be needed. This can be required to remove swollen glands affecting internal organs of body-serving as root cause of pain when you eat food. Based on situation of affected organ, minimally invasive methods may be used.
  • Dietary Changes: If the source of pain in stomach while eating is acid reflux or GERD, the doctor may advise you to make dietary changes. Avoiding certain reflux causing foods and allergens may be helpful.

The Do’s and Don’t’s

When you experience pain when swallowing foods, a few things need to be done. Besides, you need to avoid doing certain things too.

  • If a throat infection is causing the pain when you are eating food, stop in taking foods that are spicy and very hot. This can irritate the throat and aggravate the pain. Refraining from smoking would be a good idea too.
  • If the source of pain while eating is acid reflux, stop in taking spicy and oily foods which can trigger it easily. Making changes in diet and avoiding junk foods and ready to eat snacks may be necessary in this regard.
  • While using specific herbs and home remedies may soothe the pain or improve the condition of infection causing it, trying such things randomly is not prudent. Always consult a doctor before trying such stuffs- to be on safe side.
Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad

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