Odynophagia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


What is Odynophagia? 

Odynophagia is the term used to describe painful swallowing. The discomfort can be felt in the mouth, esophagus, or throat and often occurs when drinking or eating food. However, odynophagia is not a standalone condition but rather a symptom of an underlying health issue. Learn more about the definition of odynophagia, what causes it, and the treatment options available. 

Odynophagia Symptoms 

Symptoms of odynophagia can vary depending on the cause. However, the typical symptoms of painful swallowing include: 

  • Pain in the mouth, throat, or esophagus when swallowing food, liquid, or saliva.  The severity of the discomfort ranges based on the cause. 

  • Loss of appetite due to the pain. 

  • Dehydration  

  • Weight loss 

  • Fever, aches, and fatigue if the cause is from an infection 

A healthcare provider may ask about additional symptoms to fully understand the cause for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Odynophagia Causes 

Painful swallowing can be caused by a variety of conditions, these include: 

  • Weakened immune system 

  • Infections such as the flu and strep throat 

  • Fungal infections such as oral thrush  

  • Heartburn or gastro-intestinal issues 

  • Injuries or sores in the mouth or throat 

  • Inflammation in the mouth or throat 

In some cases, odynophagia may occur alongside another condition known as dysphagia. However, they can occur separately. While odynophagia refers to painful swallowing, dysphagia is a condition where it is difficult to swallow and can occur on a regular basis in some individuals. 

Odynophagia Treatment 

There are several treatment options available for painful swallowing, and these can vary due to the underlying cause of the condition:  

  • Not consuming any alcohol as it can cause further irritation  

  • Avoiding tobacco products to limit irritation of the throat and mouth 

  • Anti-inflammatories 

  • Specialized throat sprays to relieve the pain in the short term 

  • Eating soft foods such as soft cheeses, yogurt, or soup 

In most cases, the main treatment option is taking care of the underlying cause and your doctor may prescribe the use of antibiotics for infections. If you experience any painful swallowing, see your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.   

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