Happy friends holding each other
Badge field

5 Reasons You Might Experience Pain When Swallowing

Published date field Last Updated:
Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

You wake up in the morning, swallow and — ouch! Pain when swallowing may be a sign of other issues affecting your throat. Luckily, your symptoms can often be soothed with home remedies or treated with over-the-counter medicine or antibiotics. A sore throat will often resolve on its own, but if your sore throat is severe or lasts longer than a week, the Mayo Clinic suggests seeing your doctor.

Sore Throat Symptoms

A sore throat is uncomfortable and can make eating and drinking challenging. The Cleveland Clinic lists some common symptoms that often accompany this condition:

  • Throat pain when swallowing
  • Swollen or sore glands in your neck
  • Red tonsils with white patches on them
  • Coughing

Identifying these signs and symptoms may help you determine what is causing your throat pain. However, if the symptoms get worse or persist, see your doctor. Below are five possible underlying causes of throat pain when swallowing.

1. Cold Virus

Colds can be a real bummer. A runny nose, sneezing, coughing and a sore throat are hallmark symptoms of the common cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Colds can be soothed with over-the-counter medication and typically resolve on their own within seven to 10 days. If you notice white spots on your tonsils, the CDC notes that you may have a bacterial infection and not a cold virus.

2. Strep Throat

If you don't have a cough and you notice white spots on your tonsils, swollen lymph nodes or tiny red spots on the roof of your mouth, you might have strep throat. The CDC states that strep throat is caused by group A Streptococcus (group A strep) bacteria. To determine if you have strep throat, your doctor will do a rapid strep test or analyze a bacterial culture sample to see if group A strep is present.

3. Tonsillitis

If your tonsils are swollen and your rapid strep test is negative, you might have tonsillitis. Symptoms of tonsillitis and strep throat often overlap — meaning it's best to see your doctor to confirm what's causing your symptoms.

Tonsillitis simply means inflammation of the tonsils, as the National Institutes of Health explains. It could be a result of group A strep or, more commonly, a virus. If bacterial tonsillitis is a recurring problem, particularly in children, your doctor may recommend surgery for tonsil removal. However, most cases of tonsillitis resolve quickly with antibiotics (if bacteria is causing the infection) or can be soothed with over-the-counter medicine.

4. Oral Thrush

Oral thrush can be another culprit of painful swallowing. The CDC explains that an overproduction of a naturally occurring fungus called Candida can cause oral thrush. Because it is a fungal infection, it's typically treated with a course of antifungal medication, and mild cases often resolve within seven to 14 days.

5. Esophagitis

Another possible cause of painful swallowing is esophagitis. Esophagitis is the inflammation of the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth and stomach, as Harvard Medical School outlines. These are the typical symptoms:

  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Pain in the chest or throat
  • Acid reflux

Esophagitis can be caused by acid reflux, an allergic reaction or oral medications. It can also be caused be a bacterial, fungal or viral infection. If you are experiencing symptoms of esophagitis, contact your doctor for further testing.

What to Do Next

Several conditions can cause pain when swallowing, and your dentist or doctor can help to make a final diagnosis. To alleviate your throat pain at home, try these home remedies outlined by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Gargling with salt water
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Using a humidifier

If your sore throat doesn't get better or your notice red or white splotches in your throat or on your tonsils, it's a good idea to talk to your dentist or doctor to make sure you don't need antibiotics or other medications. Having a sore throat is a pain, but after just a few days of rest, most people begin to feel much better.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

paper airplane

Want more tips and offers sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up now

Mobile Top Image
Was this article helpful?

Thank you for submitting your feedback!

If you’d like a response, Contact Us.

Mobile Bottom Image