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Pain When Swallowing: 7 Common Causes

Having a sore throat isn’t fun – particularly if it hurts to swallow. You may find yourself not wanting to eat and drink as much because of the discomfort, this could lead to health problems of its own. Once you start to notice pain while swallowing, it’s usually a good idea to see a doctor, as they will be able to diagnose the exact cause. Below are just some of the most common causes of pain while swallowing to help you identify the possible cause and get the right treatment. 


Laryngitis is inflammation of the voice box. If you’ve started to lose your voice and feel the constant need to clear your throat, it’s likely that you have laryngitis. There are many things that can cause laryngitis including overuse of your voice (such as speaking loudly/singing), smoking, heavy drinking or inhaling irritants. It can also be a symptom of a cold – possibly accompanied by a cough, runny nose and fever. Laryngitis often goes away on its own, but you may want to see a doctor if it’s lasted for more than two weeks. 

Strep throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. Your throat is likely to become sore and scratchy, plus you may develop a fever and swollen glands in the throat. Strep throat is common in kids, but can affect adults too. You should see a doctor if you or your child has had symptoms for over 48 hours – antibiotics may be necessary to prescribe to prevent it spreading to other areas of the body. 


Tonsillitis is a condition in which the tonsils become swollen. While strep throat can lead to tonsillitis, you can also develop tonsillitis on its own (if the glands on either side of your throat hurt when you swallow but not your throat itself, you have tonsillitis). Tonsillitis is common in kids and can go away on its own. If you’ve had tonsillitis symptoms for a week or more, it’s a sign that you need to see a doctor, as you may need antibiotics or further treatment. 


Pericoronitis is swelling and infection caused by emerging wisdom teeth. If there is not enough room in your mouth or a wisdom tooth has become infected, it could result in pain around your back teeth and jaw. The lymph nodes in your neck could also become swollen and swallowing could become painful. It could be worth seeing a dentist if you think your wisdom teeth could be the cause. Wisdom teeth removal is sometimes necessary if teeth have no room to emerge or have become greatly infected. 


Herpes is a virus that can cause painful blisters and sores to develop in infected parts of the body. It is typically passed via someone else who has herpes. If you have HIV or diabetes you may be more susceptible to catching it. Herpes in the throat can cause pain when swallowing, fever and nausea. It could be necessary to see a doctor for anti-viral medication. 


Thrush is a fungal (yeast) infection that can similarly affect the throat. On top of causing pain while swallowing, thrush can leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth and white patches across the tongue and mouth (which may be accompanied by bleeding). A lot of children get thrush, but adults can get it too. Thrush can often go away on its own, however it’s worth seeing a doctor if you’ve had it for more than a week or it keeps coming back. 


Gingivitis is a fancy name for gum disease. It can result in painful, red, bleeding gums that may be accompanied by a metallic taste in the mouth and pain while eating and swallowing. Gingivitis is worth seeing a dentist for – scaling to remove tartar may be necessary to protect the gums. Using a mouthwash may help to reduce gingivitis and heal the gums. Good dental hygiene and giving up bad habits like smoking may prevent future gum disease.