When to See an ENT for Painful Swallowing

ENT Issues,Hearing Loss Articles | Corpus Christi ENT Sinus & Allergy

Woman in bed with sore throat.

Many of us have gone through the discomfort of painful swallowing at some point. Remember when our mothers used to blame that on swallowing something down the “wrong pipe”? As adults, we want a more comprehensive understanding of why this occurs. Does it occur once and then resolve, or does it linger? This exploration delves into the causes of painful swallowing and identifies when it’s valid to consult an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist.

What causes painful swallowing?

Various areas, such as the mouth, throat, esophagus, or chest, can feel pain during swallowing. Odynophagia is the name of this condition, and while it usually has a temporary nature, it can manifest as a symptom of several medical conditions.

Painful swallowing can be the result of these common causes.


Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation of the tonsils, two little masses of tissue located at the back of the throat. Tonsillitis produces symptoms such as a sore throat, swelling, and trouble swallowing and is typically the result of a bacterial or viral infection.

If the condition is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics will usually be prescribed and, of course, rest and hydration. In instances of chronic or severe occurrences, a tonsillectomy, surgical removal of the tonsils, may be planned.

Strep Throat

Group A streptococcus is a bacteria that is typically responsible for strep throat. It commonly presents with symptoms such as a sore and scratchy throat, trouble swallowing, and inflamed lymph nodes. Strep throat is contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets, making close contact with someone who is infected is a common means of transmission.

Treating strep throat immediately with medical attention, which will often involve antibiotics, is the only way to be sure to prevent further complications.


Esophagitis is inflammation in the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. It is typically a consequence of factors like acid reflux, infections, or certain medications, leading to symptoms such as trouble swallowing, chest pain, and heartburn.

Treatment for esophagitis involves dealing with the underlying cause. This can differ from lifestyle adjustments to medications, or in severe situations, surgical interventions.


Typically, caused by Epstein-Barr virus, Mononucleosis is an infectious disease. Fever, swollen lymph nodes, tiredness, and sore throat are typical symptoms of “mono”. Mono is commonly spread by saliva, that’s why it’s typically called “the kissing disease”.

Normally, rest and supportive care are enough for mono to clear itself up, but potential for a extreme complication is possible though, and people are cautioned to steer clear of activities that might propagate the virus during the active phase of the infection.

There are various other causes of painful swallowing, so it’s important to consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

When does painful swallowing require a visit to the ENT?

Schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible if you have painful swallowing along with any of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Experiencing shortness of breath or lightheadedness
  • Presence of blood in bowel movements or saliva
  • Symptoms persisting beyond one week
  • Hoarse voice
  • Noticing lumps in the neck

Call us right away if you’re struggling with painful swallowing, we will often run tests and also may look for tumors in the throat.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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