From allergies to sinuses, there are several causes of ear pain when swallowing. Read this article to find out how to treat earaches.

Winter brings the joy of piping hot tea, sunbathing, and savouring hot soups, along with delightful Ladoos and cosy woolen clothes. However, this snug season also increases the risk of cold, cough, sore throat, infections, and various health issues. The chilly weather often leads to earaches, which may result from factors like a congested nose, sinus problems, or exposure to cold air. But if you’re also experiencing ear pain when swallowing, it’s crucial to consider potential underlying causes contributing to this discomfort.

Is ear infection causing the pain?

One of the primary reasons you might be experiencing ear pain during swallowing is ear infection. It can trigger inflammation and swelling in the middle ear, affecting the nerves connected to the ear. Dr Sheetal Radia, a consultant ENT, and a Head and Neck Oncosurgeon, says, “Common symptoms of an ear infection include earache, fluid drainage from the ear, hearing problems, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. These infections are often bacterial or viral, which can be treated. Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial infections, while viral infections typically resolve on their own.”

10 other causes of ear pain when swallowing

1. Eustachian tube dysfunction

The eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the back of the throat and help regulate air pressure. If these tubes become blocked or fail to open properly, it can lead to a pressure imbalance, resulting in ear pain during activities like swallowing. It can result from various reasons, such as colds, sinus infections, or allergies, which can cause swelling and mucus buildup, hindering the eustachian tube’s function.

10 causes of ear pain when swallowing
Ear pain could be caused by several reasons, including ear infections! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, and in some cases, this reflux can reach the throat and ears. Dr Radia says, “The acid irritates the throat tissues, leading to inflammation that can extend to the eustachian tubes and ears, causing pain when swallowing.”

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3. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder

Ear pain when swallowing can sometimes be a result of a jaw or dental problem. In temporomandibular joint dysfunction, the joint that connects the jaw to the skull can cause pain to the ears during activities like swallowing. TMJ disorders often result from jaw clenching, teeth grinding, or misalignment, leading to ear pain and discomfort.

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4. Sinus infection

Sinus infections can cause swelling and you may feel fullness in your ear. This can be a result of bacterial or fungal infections and allergies. Apart from sore throat and ear pain, sinus can cause headache, congestion, and fatigue.

5. Throat infection

If you find it painful to swallow and you have a sore throat, your earache could be because throat infection. Dr Radia says, “Infections in the throat, such as strep throat, sinus, tooth infection, or common cold, can radiate pain to the ears. It can be treated with antibiotics.

Choking on food
Throat pain may lead to earache. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

6. Tonsillitis

If your earache comes with a severe sore throat, it could be tonsillitis. Inflammation of the tonsils can contribute to ear pain. It may cause problems swallowing, headache, fever, bad breath, swollen or red tonsils, and stomach ache.

7. Earwax or an object in the ear

Blockages in the ear canal, whether due to excessive earwax or a foreign object, can cause pain and discomfort during swallowing. Removal of the blockage can provide relief.

8. Dental abscess

A tooth infection or abscess, a bacterial infection in the teeth and gums, can lead to ear pain, particularly during swallowing.

9. Allergies

“Allergic reactions can cause inflammation in the ear, leading to pain when swallowing. Identifying and managing allergens, along with antihistamines (a drug that is often used to relieve symptoms of allergies), may alleviate symptoms,” explains Dr Radia.

10. Eagle syndrome

Eagle syndrome involves problems with the ligaments and bones in the neck and skull. A person with this condition may experience pain and discomfort in the back of the throat, face, and ear.

How to deal with ear pain while swallowing?

1. Keep your body hydrated

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help soothe the throat and reduce irritation, potentially alleviating ear pain.

2. Chew gum

Chewing gum can stimulate saliva production and help equalise pressure in the ears, especially during air travel or changes in altitude. But if you are experiencing severe pain, consult with your doctor.

chew gum
Chewing gum can help reduce ear ache. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Nasal decongestants

If congestion is a contributing factor, over-the-counter nasal decongestants may help reduce swelling and improve eustachian tube function.

4. Warm compress

Applying a warm compress to the affected ear or around the jaw area can provide relief by relaxing muscles and promoting better blood circulation.

5. Avoid trigger foods

If GERD is the cause behind ear pain, avoiding acidic or spicy foods, as well as eating smaller, more frequent meals, can help minimise reflux and subsequent ear discomfort.

When to see a doctor?

If you are dealing with persistent or severe ear pain when swallowing, you should consult a healthcare provider. Your doctor may help you identify the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment. The treatment may include antibiotics for infections or lifestyle changes for conditions like GERD.

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