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Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

What is Odynophagia?

This is a medical disorder in which a person has pain every time they swallow. There are some who confuse this medical condition with dysphagia. This is the medical condition where a person finds that it is hard to swallow. Having odynophagia you may or may not have dysphagia too. When a person has odynophagia it does not always involve having any trouble with the swallowing process itself. With odynophagia the degree of pain they feel is almost the same as when they attempt to swallow or do swallow.

Odynophagia Symptoms

For most people who have odynophagia it takes the form of an extremely uncomfortable burning sensation each time they attempt to swallow.

Other symptoms can include:

  • A sense of squeezing around your throat when you attempt to swallow whether eating or drinking but can also happen when you are just clearing your throat.
  • Occasionally a stabbing pain that radiates to your back

Causes of Odynophagia

What causes a person to have odynophagia usually has something to do with irritation or the mucosa being destroyed, which is the moist tissue that lines certain parts of the inside of your body like in your nose, stomach, ear, etc. This irritation could be caused by the continual drinking of extremely cold or hot beverages and food.

There are also other reasons that a person might develop odynophagia which can include:

  • Any muscular conditions or disorders that can negatively affect how the muscles in your throat function
  • Developing cancer in your esophagus, mouth, thyroid, neck, and larynx
  • Infections or immune disorders that start in your upper respiratory tract
  • Mouth or throat ulcers
  • Having a foreign body lodged in the lining of your esophagus or throat or an object that completely or partially obstructs these areas. Small fish bones are the common cause
  • Immune disorders
  • Epiglottitis which is where there is an inflammation of the flap at the base of your tongue that keeps food from going into the windpipe
  • Inflammation of the larynx
  • Irritants like using anti-inflammatory medications for an extended period of time
  • Acid reflux diseases like GERD

When a person has odynophagia it can stem not only from your mouth but also your esophagus or throat.


To diagnosis odynophagia there are no specific tests or exams that can be used. Your physician can diagnosis odynophagia by identifying the problem based on what the symptoms you have been experiencing. If your physician thinks that it could be cancer as the underlying cause they will usually do a biopsy to make sure.

Treatment for Odynophagia

When treating odynophagia it is best to take a two-step approach and treat both the symptoms and the underlying cause together. If you have acute odynophagia that is from having cancer then the treating for odynophagia and cancer would most likely be extended. Treating odynophagia caused by cancer might involve chemotherapy and radiation to help the tumor become smaller along with helping to stop the cancer cells from spreading but it would depend on how severe it is and where the cancer is located as to the exact treatment used. Surgery may also have to be performed to remove the tumor.

Other means of treating the underlying cause of odynophagia can include:

  • If it is from ulcers they can be removed surgically
  • If it is from an upper respiratory infection you may be prescribe oral forms of nasal decongestants and antibiotics
  • If it is from acid reflux disease you can take over-the-counter medications like antacids. If it is a severe case or the over-the-counter medications do not work your physician may give you a prescription medication.

You should also avoid peppermint, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks because any of these can give you acid reflux. Once you have treated the underlying cause odynophagia will start to ease up.

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