Ear Hurts When I Swallow, What Could Be a Cause?

Having an earache is a very common health complaint in both, adults and children. In most cases it is nothing serious, but can have many possible root causes.

It is usually caused by a minor infection, which will heal itself in a few days without treatment.

The pain can become very sharp and severe when you swallow. This can have an effect on one or both ears. Because this is often worrisome, people seek advice when their ear hurts.

Here is some useful information to have if you are experiencing ear pain when you swallow.


Possible Causes

Your throat and ears are connected through your nervous system, so you may experience ear pain along with an infected throat.

Here are some of the most common causes of ear pain when you swallow;


1. Earwax

According to the National Health Service in England, a buildup of earwax can result in an earache.(1) Do not try to remove excess wax or a foreign object from your ear, as you may push it further in, causing more damage to the eardrum.

Instead, try using eardrops to soften the earwax which will help it fall out on its own.(check price on Amazon)


2. Swimmer’s Ear

According to Dr. Sears, swimmer’s ear is an infection in the skin of the ear canal, rather than in the ear canal or middle ear.(2) Swimmer’s ear is similar to an infection that is anywhere else on the surface of the skin.

However, this can cause inflammation in the canal of the ear. This may lead to the painful development of an infection.


3. Dental Abscess

A bacterial infection can lead to an excess buildup of pus in your gums. This can result in intense pain in the affected area of the mouth, as well as severe pain while swallowing. A dentist will have to remove the abscess and can drain the pus to help alleviate the pain in the ear.


4. Blockage of the Eustachian Tube

The Eustachian tubes link the back of your throat to the middle of your ear. These tubes regulate pressure and the drainage of mucus.

According to MedicineNet, these tubes can swell due to an infection, which does not leave enough space for mucus to drain, resulting in the build-up of excess mucus and an ideal environment for bacteria to grow.(3)

This is very common in children. To alleviate this problem, try using decongestants to clear blockages in these tubes, however, you may need an antibiotic to completely heal the infections.


5. Ear Infections

Ear infections are one of the main causes of pain in the ear when swallowing. Children and adults may experience different symptoms of an ear infection; (4,5,6)

Symptoms for Children

» Pulling on the ear

» Trouble sleeping

» Loss of balance and appetite

» Ear pain

» Fever

» Irritability

» Difficulty responding to noise

» Headache

» Fluid in the ear


Symptoms for Adults

» Diminished hearing

» Ear pain

» Drainage of fluid from the ear


6. Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can be caused by either bacterial or viral infections. Inflamed tonsils produce a variety of symptoms, including a sore throat and ear pain when swallowing. Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections, and over the counter medications can help ease the pain.


7. Throat Infection

A throat infection can cause significant pain in the ears when swallowing due to the connection between the throat and the ears. According to HealthLine, a sore throat is typically a symptom of a viral infection, so the treatment will only alleviate symptoms.(7)

If the infection is bacterial, such as like strep throat, you will be treated with antibiotics.


8. Otitis Media

Also called “glue ear” otitis media results from the buildup of fluid inside the ear, which can cause hearing loss temporarily. This fluid pressure can lead to a severe earache, especially when swallowing. While this typically resolves on its own with time, antibiotics may be recommended to speed up the process.


9. Laryngitis

The larynx may become inflamed due to excessive smoking, overuse of the vocal chords, and infections. According to Medical News Today, people suffering from laryngitis may experience the loss of their voice along with pain in the ear while swallowing.(8)

Laryngitis may even make it difficult to swallow in the first place.


10. Ear Damage

Ear pain when swallowing could be due to ear damage that was caused by an injury to the inner ear. This may happen if you are trying to clear your ear of wax. Inserting a cotton swab too far into the ear canal can puncture the eardrum, resulting in severe pain.

The ear canal is easily damaged, as it is very sensitive. This will typically heal on its own, but it may take a few months to heal completely.



When you have pain while swallowing, you may experience difficulty while swallowing, swollen lymph nodes, swollen glands, rash on the tonsils, fever, excess pus, back and neck stiffness, blood in your saliva or phlegm, or prolonged mouth ulcers.

These symptoms will vary depending on the source of the pain.



Depending on the cause of the pain, treatment options may vary.

However, certain treatments are pretty common and there are even some home remedies you can do to help ease the pain.


1. Change your toothbrush.

This can help get rid of a painful condition and it also reduces the chances of re-infecting the throat with bacteria on the toothbrush.


2. Use a saline nasal spray.

This can help with the pain of a sore throat as well as ear pain. It can also be used if you have a dry throat because it helps keep the mucous membranes moist.(check price on Amazon)


3. Use over the counter pain killers.

Using painkillers such as ibuprofen can help to temporarily relieve pain.


4. Antibiotics may be necessary.

Depending on the condition, you may need some prescription antibiotics to treat ear pain.


Home Remedies

Some home remedies to ease the pain are also a good thing to take into consideration.(9,10)

» Apply a heating pad or a heated piece of cloth to the affected ear to help relieve pain. Be careful that the pad or cloth are not too hot in order to avoid burn injuries to the skin.

» Use steam to help relieve the pain of a sore throat or ear pain. Taking a vapor bath or breathing in steam over a pot of boiling water may help reduce the condition. When steam is taken for a sore throat and ear pain, the body is typically able to recover more quickly.

» Make sure to stay hydrated. Hydration, especially in the form of warm fluids, not only helps to keep the throat hydrated but can also make swallowing easier when it is painful. Hot tea or soup broth are great options to drink when you have ear pain. Making a special tea from basil leaves, ginger, turmeric, salt, and cinnamon is an effective remedy. Add a teaspoon of honey to make it a bit sweet. This remedy may also help to reduce a fever if one is present.

» Keep your whole body healthy by avoiding alcohol and tobacco products. Also, rest your body in order to speed up the healing process.

» Buy some throat lozenges or popsicles to help keep the throat moist.

» Gargle some salt water repeatedly throughout the day to help heal a sore throat and painful ears.


When to See a Doctor

Go to the doctor if you or your child experience a sudden loss of hearing, dizziness, or severe pain.(10) Also, if you are very sick with a high fever and stiff neck. In children, there may be pain, redness, or swelling behind or around the ear, which is a sign to see the doctor.

If you feel that your child is having ear pain and you cannot quiet them for several hours with home treatment, call the doctor. A child may show signs of ear pain by tugging or rubbing on the ear, and it will often come along with a fever.

Call a doctor if you think that there is a possibility that your child’s eardrum has burst, or there is pus or blood draining from the ear. Also, be sure to notify a doctor if your child continues to have any symptoms after two days of antibiotic treatment.

A doctor may suggest watchful waiting for ear pain. In this case, you and your doctor watch the symptoms of the child to monitor if the issue improves by itself. If it does get better on its own, there is no need for treatment. However, if symptoms don’t seem to improve, or if they worsen, it is important to take the next step in treatment.



In conclusion, ear pain is common in both children and adults and not necessarily something to worry about.

There are many things that could cause pain in the ears while swallowing. A lot of these cases start in the throat, due to the connection of the throat and the ears, however, some do not.

Some of these issues will go away on their own and can be treated at home, while others need medical attention and possibly antibiotics.

If you or your child are experiencing pain in the ear when you swallow:

» check for other symptoms.

» take an OTC pain reliever for temporary relief.

» call the doctor if necessary.

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