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20 Aug, 2018

Painful swallowing is medically known as “Odynophagia”. The pain can be felt in your mouth, throat, or esophagus while swallowing food or drink.

Dysphagia, on the other hand, is the difficulty experienced while swallowing. Although they may seem similar, odynophagia and dysphagia are different in terms of the symptoms and experience. Odynophagia is simply painful but there need not be any hindrance to swallow. Meanwhile, dysphagia is the physical difficulty in actually swallowing.

Both conditions can occur independently of each other or at the same time and do so especially when much of the underlying causes for these conditions are the same.  

Odynophagia displays many of the same symptoms as dysphagia.

  • Pain that can be dull or sharp while swallowing.
  • Dry foods may cause more pain than liquids.
  • Weight loss from reduced food intake.
  • In case of an infection, additional symptoms such as earaches, headaches, fever, cough, runny nose can also occur along with odynophagia.



Odynophagia can only be fully treated when the cause has been successfully identified.

Common cold can cause pain while swallowing but it usually resolves on its own. However, chronic Odynophagia may sometimes be related to

  • Cancer: Tumors that develop in the throat and esophagus either by smoking, alcohol abuse, hereditary predisposition or chronic heartburn.
  • Candida infection: These fungi exist in a co-dependent manner on the external skin of our body. However, due to unhygienic practices or infection, they can enter the mouth and spread rapidly to the throat.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): develops due to the lower esophageal sphincter not closing properly. Therefore, stomach acid leaks back into the esophagus, known as acid reflux. This corrodes the mucus lining of the esophageal tract rendering it painful to swallow.
  • HIV: When a person is HIV positive, it is likely that their immune system will be compromised leading them to be more susceptible to infections such as candida. Some treatments for HIV are known to cause acid reflux as well.
  • Ulcers:  are sores that can occur anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract in your mouth, throat, esophagus, or stomach. Ulcers may result from untreated GERD or even constant use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Radiation therapy: for cancer may lead to damage to normal, healthy cells in the esophagus that replenish the mucus lining.



Odynophagia is usually diagnosed with a specific test to determine or rule out any underlying cause such as infections, medication, other diseases. An endoscopy is also carried out to notice any abnormalities and what is happening while the patient tries to swallow.



As mentioned before, odynophagia can only be treated by targeting the underlying cause.

  • In the case of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), antacids, H2 blockers, and Proton pump inhibitor drugs may be prescribed to prevent acid reflux and reduce acid production overall temporarily.
  • Infections are tackled with an antibiotic regime.
  • Tumors and abnormal growths are usually surgically removed and dealt with.

Usually, the pain goes away after a few days, but if it persists for more than a week, it is advisable to consult with your doctor about possible causes.

Odynophagia can lead to complications if not treated correctly such as malnutrition, dehydration, and anemia.