Odynophagia: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment


“Odinofagia” is the medical term for painful swallowing. The person may feel pain in the mouth, throat, or esophagus. You may experience difficulty swallowing when drinking or eating food.

Sometimes, swallowing difficulties, known as dysphagia, can accompany pain, but odynophagia is usually a condition.

There is no single cause or measure of treatment designated for odynophagia. That’s because painful swallowing is related to numerous underlying health conditions.

Odynophagia vs dysphagia

Sometimes, odynophagia is confused with dysphagia, another condition that has to do with swallowing. Dysphagia refers to difficulty swallowing. With this condition, swallowing problems occur regularly. It is also more common in older adults.

Like odynophagia, dysphagia is related to a variety of causes. The precise treatment depends on the underlying health problem. Dysphagia can be so severe that it can not be swallowed at all.

Dysphagia and odynophagia can occur at the same time. They can also have the exact underlying causes.


However, it is possible that the person swallowed with difficulties but without any pain. If this is the case, you probably only have dysphagia. Alternatively, odynophagia can cause pain without problems swallowing.


Odynophagia can sometimes be related to a minor condition, such as the common cold. In such cases, the painful swallowing will resolve itself over time.

Chronic painful swallowing may be related to another underlying cause. Several medical conditions can cause odynophagia. Among the possibilities are:

Cancer: Sometimes, chronic painful swallowing is an early sign of esophageal cancer. This is caused by tumors that develop in your esophagus.

Esophageal cancer can develop from long-term smoking, alcohol abuse, or persistent heartburn. It can also be hereditary.

Candida infection (or candidiasis): This type of fungal infection can occur in the mouth. It can spread and cause esophageal symptoms, such as painful swallowing.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): develops from the lower sphincter in the esophagus and does not close properly. As a result, stomach acid leaches into the esophagus.

You may have GERD if you experience pain when swallowing and other symptoms, such as heartburn or chest pain.

HIV: Esophageal problems often occur in people with HIV. According to the AIDS Education and Treatment Center Program, the most common infection is candida infection.

Sometimes antiretroviral agents used to treat HIV result in acid reflux. This can lead to other symptoms such as odynophagia.

Ulcers: These are sores that can occur in the mouth, throat, or esophagus, as well as in the stomach. Untreated GERD can also cause ulcers.

Long-term use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, may increase the risk of ulcers.

Odynophagia can also be caused by medical treatments, such as radiation therapy for cancer. Some prescription medications can also cause painful swallowing.


Dysphagia is one of the symptoms that most often goes hand in hand with odynophagia. The individual may also complain of pain in the mouth that intensifies when the individual is swallowing.

If an individual has odynophagia when eating hot food or drinks and occurs more in the morning, it could be related to GERD.

Sometimes, odynophagia can be accompanied by shortness of breath or dysphonia that indicates a problem with the larynx or voice box or obstruction of the throat.


Odynophagia is usually diagnosed with endoscopy. This involves a small camera with a light called an endoscope. It is placed in the throat so that your doctor can better see your esophagus. They will also try to swallow during the test.

Your doctor may order other tests related to any underlying cause suspected of pain when swallowing. However, it is essential to keep in mind that your blood tests may be regular.

Treatment for Odinophagy

The precise treatment plan depends on the underlying cause.

Medications: Painful swallowing can be resolved with medication depending on the underlying medical condition.

For example, prescription medications to treat GERD can help prevent stomach acid from returning to the pharynx and esophagus. In turn, you may notice improvements in pain when swallowing.

Medications can also treat other underlying causes, such as HIV and infections. Candida infections should be treated with antifungal agents.

Surgery: In cases of esophageal tumors or carcinoma, your doctor may recommend the surgical removal of these cells. This option can also be used for GERD if the medications do not help your condition.

If your doctor does not detect any underlying medical problems, the painful swallowing may resolve over time. This is common after having mild or severe allergies.

Talk to your doctor if you have recurring discomfort with swallowing.


When they are detected and treated early, many underlying health conditions may improve, along with painful swallowing. The key is to call your doctor if you experience prolonged symptoms.

If left untreated, odynophagia and its underlying cause can cause more complications. Weight loss can also occur with odynophagia.

You may eat less because of the discomfort associated with swallowing. This can lead to other health problems, such as anemia, dehydration, and malnutrition. If you find that this is the case, consult your doctor immediately.