Odynophagia (Painful Swallowing): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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OdynophagiaEveryone has had pain when swallowing. It is usually the result of a particularly bad cold or cough or perhaps an infection of the tonsils.  It’s a true inconvenience, but you usually get over it within a few days when your throat starts to repair itself. Odynophagia is the medical term for painful swallowing and, unfortunately, that swallowing pain can continue after a cold for some of us. In this article, we will explore the various odynophagia causes, odynophagia symptoms, and treatment as well as examine the difference between odynophagia and dysphagia.

What Causes Pain When Swallowing?

Pain from swallowing can have a number of causes that run from hot and spicy foods to horrible diseases. However, there are a few causes that seem to come up more than others.

1. Infection

The most usual suspect for swallowing pain is infection. It can be something as simple as infected tonsils or as severe as herpes or HIV infection.

2. Inflammation

Inflammation often goes hand in hand with infection, but inflammation of various organs and body parts can also cause painful swallowing. Common inflammation suspects can include tonsils and the esophagus.

3. Ulcers

Nasty and painful, the throat and esophagus can develop ulcers that may make swallowing incredibly painful, especially when food is involved.

4. Tumors

Tumors, both cancerous and benign, can cause problems with swallowing as they will obstruct anything coming down the throat and may also cause pain.

5. Foreign Objects

While most foreign objects will get stuck in your throat and cause you to choke, sometimes an object may be small enough not to interrupt breathing but big enough to get stuck and cause pain while swallowing. A fish bone is one example.

Symptoms that Co-Exist with Odynophagia

There are a few symptoms that may be part and parcel of the condition. Shortness of breath, for example, is very common for odynophagia as whatever is causing the painful swallowing may also be obstructing the airway.  You may also have mouth pain that intensifies as you try to swallow. The painful swallowing may also be partly due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as the stomach acid can cause damage to the throat while you sleep.

Of course, a doctor will need to assess these symptoms in order to make an official diagnosis.

Diagnosing and Treating Odynophagia

Diagnosing odynophagia doesn’t involve any particular tests. Instead, the doctor will most likely base a diagnosis on the symptoms you describe following a physical examination. In cases where the examination and discussion of symptoms aren’t enough, the doctor may make an appointment for an endoscopy exam. An endoscopy exam involves a small camera being sent down your throat so the doctor can take a look at what is going on. The doctor will then decide on the next course of action. This is especially important if the cause requires urgent treatment such as with tumors and ulcers. After a diagnosis has been made, the next step is treatment.

Treating painful swallowing is much like diagnosing it. There are a number of different causes, so there are a number of different treatments. Tumors, for example, may require surgery; and if they are cancerous, radiation and chemotherapy may also be necessary. Ulcers may also require surgery. The doctor may recommend you avoid certain foods that aggravate your throat like spicy food or caffeinated drinks.

Difference between Dysphagia and Odynophagia

An issue that often comes up with odynophagia is that it can be confused with dysphagia. The two are very similar medical conditions but do have had a very distinct difference.

Odynophagia, as we mentioned earlier, is the medical term for painful swallowing. When you swallow, it hurts—simple as that. Dysphagia, on the other hand, is the medical term for the symptom of difficulty with swallowing. This does not mean painful; it simply means you have a hard time completing the physical act of swallowing. What complicates the distinction is that dysphagia is well connected to dysphagia as some of the things that cause painful swallowing can also cause difficulty in swallowing.

Odynophagia Requires Your Attention

Painful swallowing is not normal. If it’s caused by a cold, it will go away relatively quickly, but if it doesn’t, you may have a serious problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. The last thing you want is not to be able to eat solid foods or worse. If your throat has been sore while swallowing a little too long for your comfort, go get it checked out as soon as you can.

Related Articles:

Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing): Symptoms, Causes, and Natural Treatments

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