Pain when swallowing: what to do?

In most cases, difficulty swallowing is caused by a cold or a viral infection. Depending on the cause, there are different treatments.

It scratches and burns in the throat, it hurts to swallow and the whole throat is thick. If swallowing problems occur, it is very uncomfortable for the sufferers. But in most cases, pain when swallowing is harmless and is just a sign of a cold. Here you can read about the causes of swallowing difficulties, when you should see a doctor about your symptoms and what are the options to get rid of the pain.

Pain when swallowing: causes and symptoms

A person swallows about 2000 times a day. In the vast majority of cases, this happens completely unconsciously – if the process is not associated with pain. Classic symptoms are:

  • sore throat
  • Pain on one or both sides
  • tightness
  • Sensation of a lump in the throat
  • frequent but harmless ingestion
  • Pain in the esophagus as food travels to the stomach

Because swallowing is a complex neuromuscularly mediated process involving, among others, 26 pairs of muscles, there are various causes of swallowing pain.

The most common cause of painful swallowing is a viral infection. These include throat infections such as pharyngitis (pharyngitis), tonsillitis (tonsillitis, tonsillar angina, tonsillopharyngitis) and laryngitis (larynx). A flu-like effect or illnesses caused by viruses such as influenza or rhinoviruses can also lead to difficulty swallowing. Bacterial infections are less common.

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Environmental influences such as smoking can also cause pain when swallowing, and allergies can also cause difficulty swallowing. In winter, for example, problems with swallowing occur more often, because at this time of the year various viral infections are circulating and the air in the room is drier due to the heating. The cold wave is stronger this year than in previous years.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a sore throat when swallowing can also be a sign of infection The coronavirus be. The pain can persist long after the illness. If you have other symptoms of coronavirus infection, you should take a rapid corona test.

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Rarely, the following diseases can also cause pain when swallowing:

  • Narrowing of the esophagus, for example due to a tumor
  • Gastric sphincter dysfunction (with heartburn)
  • enlarged thyroid gland
  • neurological diseases, for example Multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
  • genetic defects that lead to insufficient development of the neck muscles
  • mental illness

Difficulty swallowing: dysphagia

In case of swallowing difficulties, the swallowing process can proceed normally – except for the pain. If this is not the case, it is called a swallowing disorder, medically also dysphagia. Since many organs in different places are involved in swallowing, dysphagia can have many causes. Dysphagia can occur in the mouth and throat or in the esophagus.

According to the German Interdisciplinary Society for Dysphagia, about five million people in Germany are affected by a swallowing disorder. Whether dysphagia is present and how it can be treated must be decided by a doctor or speech therapist. Possible treatments include head posture, muscle exercises, speech therapy training, or medication and surgery. Medical encyclopedia MSD manual also emphasizes that dysphagia should not be confused with a “lump in the throat” sensation, which is simply a feeling of impaired swallowing.

Home remedies for pain when swallowing: you can do it

Before you start using medication to treat swallowing problems, it’s worth trying home remedies.

drink a lot: Anyone who is sick should drink a lot. The neck should be kept moist with at least two liters of fluid per day. This supports the mucosa in self-cleansing and defense against pathogens. This works best with still water or tea. In addition to hydration, herbal tea has a beneficial effect and soothes an irritated throat. Sage, linden, chamomile, mallow, elderberry, buckthorn, and yarrow are considered particularly effective. Hot lemon also reduces inflammation and provides vital vitamin C as well.

Gargle: Saline solution has an antibacterial effect and thus helps ward off germs in the mouth and throat. To do this, dissolve about half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water. Tip: You can also gargle the tea, which relieves pain.

neck wrap: Cooling neck packs are also effective for sore throats. To do this, place a cloth soaked in lukewarm or cold water on your neck and cover it with a dry cloth. By cooling the wraps, they help reduce swelling in the throat. The wrap can be reapplied after approx. 15 minutes.

Pain when swallowing: drugs and medical treatment

If you are ill for a long time and do not feel any relief from home treatment, you can first try over-the-counter medicines. Depending on the specific complaints, there are different preparations. You should ask for advice directly from the pharmacy.

If the pain when swallowing lasts longer and occurs in combination with other symptoms of the disease – such as fever, severe cough, shortness of breath, headache or skin rash – it is strongly recommended to visit the doctor’s office. After the examination, the doctor will then decide how to treat the symptoms. In patients with severe symptoms of tonsillitis, a broad-spectrum antibiotic (eg amoxicillin/clavulanic acid) can be used, says the medical dictionary MSD manual.

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