What causes ear pain when swallowing?

Ear pain when swallowing is most commonly associated with a variety of underlying infections. The throat and ear are closely connected through the nervous system, so a condition in one area is likely to affect the other. For example, a typical middle ear infection of the ear will often cause a blockage in the Eustachian tubes that directly connect the middle ear and the pharynx and therefore can lead to ear pain when swallowing. In contrast, a sore throat can cause an earache because the cranial nerves directly connect the two parts of the body. Swimmer's ear, tonsillitis, and laryngitis are other examples of infections that can cause ear pain when swallowing.

The Eustachian tubes of the ear connect the middle ear directly to the back of the throat, performing the functions of pressure equalization and mucus drainage. When infected, the tubes can become swollen, constricted, and often fill with excess mucus, providing additional environments for bacterial growth. While ear infections are the most common middle ear condition, especially in children, any disorder that affects the Eustachian tubes can cause ear pain when swallowing. Decongestants can help relieve a blocked Eustachian tube, but ear infections require antibiotic treatment to fully heal.

Just as an ear infection can cause a sore throat, a throat infection can cause a sore ear due to the direct connection between the two areas via the Eustachian tubes and cranial nerves. Most cases of sore throats are viral infections, and treatment will generally focus on relieving symptoms, as long as the infection is not extremely severe. Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, can be cured with antibiotics.

Swimmer's ear is an inflammation of the ear canal, primarily affecting the outer ear rather than the inner ear. In most cases, water clogs up in the ear after swimming, especially in lakes and oceans, providing an infection-prone environment. Usually, the only direct symptom of swimmer's ear is a sharp pain in the ear, particularly when touched or pulled, but throat irritation and ear pain with swallowing can also be secondary manifestations of the infection.

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils caused by an infection, either viral or bacterial. In most cases, tonsillitis will cause the patient to have mild to severe versions of many common sore throat symptoms, including ear pain when swallowing. If the infection is bacterial, tonsillitis can be treated with antibiotics. Otherwise, over-the-counter medications and home remedies can relieve tonsillitis symptoms, and in severe and chronic cases, the tonsils can be surgically removed.

Laryngitis refers to an inflammation of the larynx that can be caused by a variety of factors, including infection, overuse of the vocal cords, and excessive smoking. Patients will typically experience a loss or hoarseness of voice along with many typical sore throat and cold or flu symptoms. Many cases of laryngitis will involve difficulty swallowing and subsequently possible ear pain when swallowing as well. The treatment of laryngitis depends on its cause. Situations like infection and acid reflux can be treated with medication, while vocal cord disorders may require speech therapy or surgery.

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