Ear pain when swallowing can be due to an ear or throat infection, a dental abscess, or damage to the ear. Other conditions can also cause ear pain when swallowing. Treatment can depend on the cause.

There are many reasons why a person’s ears might hurt when they swallow. The three most common causes of this pain are infections of the:

  • ear
  • nose
  • throat

This article explains ear pain while swallowing in more detail and teaches the best ways to treat it. It also describes when to seek advice from a doctor.

Female drinking from a straw.Share on Pinterest
Valentina Barreto/Stocksy

Ear infections can be very painful. One type of ear infection is swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, which is when the ear canal’s skin becomes infected with bacteria or fungi. About 10% of people will get this in their lifetime, though it is most common in children ages 7-14.

However, the majority of cases involve bacterial or viral infections in the middle ear. This is called otitis media. It is also especially common in children. About 80% of all children will experience a case, and most cases are acute.

Ear pain with swallowing is more common with a middle ear infection because it affects the eustachian tubes. These are canals that connect the middle ear to the upper throat and nasal cavity. They also regulate pressure in the ear. Any time a person swallows, they release pressure. If the ear is infected, this can cause pain.


In children, a middle ear infection can cause:

  • a fever
  • ear pain that may get worse if they lie down
  • crying and irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of balance
  • less sleep than usual
  • tugging at the affected ear
  • drainage of fluid from the ear
  • headaches

Symptoms in adults include:

  • pain
  • a low grade fever
  • drainage of fluid from the ear
  • problems hearing

Ear infection treatment

A doctor will prescribe antibiotics if the infection causes severe discomfort or symptoms do not improve within one week. The antibiotic of choice is usually amoxicillin.

Sometimes, a doctor may choose to wait on prescribing antibiotics to avoid contributing to antibiotic resistance. This is because some middle ear infections can clear up on their own, particularly in adults.

While an ear infection is the most common cause of ear pain when swallowing, nose or throat infections may also be responsible.

The adenoids, which are small pads of immune tissue, grow larger in response to germs that enter the nose and mouth.

These adenoids are located close to the eustachian tubes. If the adenoids grow so large that they block the tubes, ear pain can result. This is more likely to occur in childhood when adenoids are the largest.

In this case, when a person swallows, they may also experience pain.

Learn more about enlarged adenoids.

Symptoms of a nose or throat infection

With either type of infection, a person may experience:

  • throat pain that worsens when swallowing
  • a cough
  • a dry, scratchy throat
  • redness at the back of the mouth
  • bad breath
  • swollen glands in the neck

Several other health problems can lead to ear pain when swallowing. They include:

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) occurs when the joint connecting the jaw bone to the skull becomes damaged. A person can experience pain when chewing, talking, or swallowing. Pain can also occur in the ears.

Treatments include painkillers, warm or cold compresses, lifestyle changes, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and rest. Doctors also advise people to stop clenching the jaw and grinding the teeth if these are issues.

Earwax or an object in the ear

An earache can result from an object becoming lodged in the ear. A doctor should remove any ear obstructions.

People can use ear drops to soften a buildup of earwax. If the wax is particularly stubborn, a doctor may have to flush the ear with water.

Dental abscess

A bacterial infection can cause pus to collect in the teeth and gums. This buildup is called a dental abscess. Pain in the affected tooth is the primary symptom, but an abscess can also cause pain in the ear.

A person should receive treatment as soon as possible. The dentist can drain the pus and remove the abscess, which will reduce pain and other symptoms.

Eagle syndrome

Problems with the ligaments and bones in the neck or skull can cause Eagle syndrome. A person may experience pain in the back of the throat, face, and ears, which can worsen when they move their head.

A person may need surgery to correct the underlying problem.

Ear damage

Ear pain can also result from damage. Pushing earbuds too far into the ear canal or scraping it with a finger or cotton bud can cause the eardrum to puncture.

Most damage to the ear will heal on its own. A punctured eardrum may take several months to fully heal.

Pain in the ear when swallowing can indicate an underlying condition.

If a person also experiences any of the following symptoms, contact a doctor as soon as possible:

  • a high fever
  • feeling hot and shivery
  • fluid leaking from the ear
  • hearing loss
  • swelling in or around the ear
  • an earache that lasts for more than a few days
  • vomiting
  • a severe sore throat
  • dizziness
  • frequently reoccurring ear infections

Also, see a doctor immediately if the ear pain accompanies a long-term medical condition, such as diabetes, a heart, lung, kidney, or neurological disease, or an illness that weakens the immune system.

The following are answers to additional questions about ear pain when swallowing.

Can Covid-19 cause ear pain when swallowing?

Since Covid-19 is a virus, there is a possibility that contracting Covid-19 could eventually lead to a middle ear infection. This could then lead to ear pain while swallowing.

Why does my ear hurt when I chew or yawn?

Because of its impact on the eustachian tubes, an ear infection could also lead to pain while chewing or yawning. TMJ can also cause ear pain while chewing.

Why do my throat, ear, and jaw hurt?

One cause could be glossopharyngeal neuralgia. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction can also cause jaw pain.

Ear pain when swallowing can be very uncomfortable. However, a person can manage many of the common causes at home.

If an infection is responsible for the pain, it may go away on its own or with prescription medication.