Painful swallowing

  • Definition

    Swallowing pain refers to pain while swallowing, which may be felt high in the neck or lower down behind the breastbone. It is most often a strong feeling of uncomfortable squeezing and burning, and may be a symptom of a serious disorder.

    See also: Swallowing difficulty

    Alternative Names

    Swallowing - pain or burning; Odynophagia; Burning feeling when swallowing


    Swallowing is a complex act that involves the mouth, throat area, and esophagus (the muscular tube that moves food to the stomach). Many nerves and muscles control how these body parts work. Part of the act of swallowing is under voluntary control, which means you are aware of controlling the action. However, much of swallowing is involuntary.

    Problems at any point -- from chewing food and moving it into the back of the mouth to moving the food into the stomach -- can result in difficulty swallowing.

    Chest pain, the feeling of food stuck in the throat, or heaviness or pressure in the neck or upper chest while eating are often the result of swallowing difficulties.

    Common Causes
    • Infection
      • Cytomegalovirus
      • Gum disease (gingivitis)
      • Herpes simplex virus
      • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
      • Pharyngitis (sore throat usually due to infection)
      • Thrush (a fungal infection caused by Candida)
      • Tooth infection or abscess
    • Mouth or throat ulcers
    • Inflammation of the esophagus
    • Something stuck in the throat (for example, fish or chicken bones)
    • Problems with the esophagus (listed below) may cause difficulty swallowing:
      • Achalasia
      • Esophageal spasms
      • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
      • Nutcracker esophagus