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Why Painful Swallowing? Odynophagia Causes and Treatment

In Scientific Term Pain in the throat while swallowing or painful swallowing is called odynophagia. At first, there is slight discomfort during swallowing which increases with time. You may feel pain while taking both solid and liquid food. Because stimulation of muscles that bring about swallowing may induce pain. Odynophagia is different from dysphagia. In dysphagia there is difficulty in swallowing, the patient can’t swallow or tries several times to force the bolus down to the stomach. In odynophagia, the patient can swallow. There is no problem in the machinery involved in the swallowing but the patient feels pain because of some damage, injury or inflammation of the innermost layer of the digestive pathway. This innermost layer is called the mucus membrane or mucosa.
Lets us discuss the causes of odynophagia one by one and briefly.

Causes of Odynophagia or painful Swallowing

1. Pharyngitis or Strep Sore Throat:
In pharyngitis (also known as sore throat or Strep throat. there is inflammation of the mucosa of pharynx. During swallowing food enters the pharynx then oesophagus and swallowing complete when food reaches the stomach. So pain may occur during swallowing if there is any damage, injury or inflammation of these structures. Odynophagia in pharyngitis go away with treatment and completely disappears within 5-8 days.
2. Esophagitis
Esophagitis may result from bacterial infection, reflux of acid from the stomach (reflux esophagitis) (barret esophagitis), direct injury or trauma and intake of acids and alkalies (chemical esophagitis). Every cause has its own treatment.
3. Tonsilitis
Tonsils are present at the back of the mouth. There are two tonsils, one present on each side. In tonsilitis, tonsils swell due to inflammation and are painful. When food particles press against them patient feels pain.
4. Infections:
Any infection of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and oesophagus may cause odynophagia or painful swallowing.
5. Foreign Bodies upper digestive tract:
Foreign bodies in oesophagus or pharynx which partially or completely obstruct the lumen cause pain during swallowing.
6. Tumours:
Oesophagal tumours cause painful swallowing. A pain that doesn’t disappear should be considered as dangerous.
In a nutshell, see a doctor when you have odynophagia especially if the severity of pain doesn’t decrease with time.

Treatment of Odynophagia – Painful Swallowing.

To treat odynophagia you have to identify and then eliminate the cause.
  1. Pharyngitis is treated with the help of antibiotics.
  2. Tonsilitis can be treated with antibiotics but if symptoms won’t disappear then tonsils can be removed.
  3. Infections need antibiotics.
  4. Foreign bodies are removed with endoscopic techniques and pain killers are given for pain and prophylactic antibiotics for prevention of infection.
  5. Tumours need surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy according to grade and stage.


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