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Ear Pain when Swallowing

Otalgia, more commonly known as ear ache, is a common condition that can have many different causes. It usually occurs due to middle or outer ear issues like disease, nerve problems, infections, blockages or injuries. Occasionally, ear pain is referred from other body parts. Ear pain can also occur during sudden changes in air pressure, such as during air travel or when diving in water. Some of the less obvious causes can be symptoms of other health issues that need to be diagnosed and treated properly.

Causes of Ear Pain

When ear pain is felt while swallowing, it is usually accompanied by pressure felt in the ear when yawning or coughing. Nerves within the ear may become irritated in some way and these nerves are usually connected to the swallowing muscles.

The eustachian tube is a tiny channel that bridges the middle ear and the upper throat including the back of the nose. This channel functions like a pressure valve to control the air pressure between the middle ear and the outside. When yawning or swallowing, this tube expands slightly, so a problem with the tube can cause pain in the ear when swallowing.

An extremely contagious, but fairly uncommon disease called mumps is caused by a viral infection. Ear pain is a common symptom of this disease. Tonsillitis is another disease that can cause pain when swallowing that can also be felt in the middle ear. The tonsils are small glands in the back of the throat that can become infected, causing pain in the throat and, by extension, the ear canal. The tonsils can also suffer from a peritonsillar abscess due to tonsillitis.

A simple sore throat can also cause ear pain, since the nerves in the throat are connected to those in the ear via the cranium. Thermal laryngitis, the result of a heat injury to the larynx, also causes throat pain which leads to ear pain while swallowing. This is accompanied by a sore throat, hoarse voice and occasionally also breathing issues.

Sinusitis directly results in ear pain or blockage of the ear canal. The same infection affecting the sinus can spread to the throat, causing both pain in the throat and ear when swallowing.


A medical professional will be able to diagnose the particular cause for a person's ear or throat pain and prescribe a course of treatment. Antibiotics can be effective in dealing with certain infections that may be present. Some home remedies can be attempted before seeking medical advice, but prolonged ear pain should be taken to a doctor.

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