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Ear pain when swallowing is most commonly associated with a variety of underlying infections. The throat and the ear are closely connected through the nervous system, so it is likely that an affliction to one area will affect the other. For example, a typical ear infection of the middle ear will often cause a blockage in the Eustachian tubes directly connecting both the middle ear and the pharynx and may, hence, lead to ear pain when swallowing. Conversely, a sore throat can lead to ear pain because the cranial nerves directly connect the two body parts. Swimmer's ear, tonsillitis and laryngitis are further examples of infections that can cause ear pain when swallowing.
The Eustachian tubes of the ear link the middle ear directly to the back of the throat, performing the functions of pressure equalization and mucus drainage. When infected, the tubes may swell, become restricted and will often fill up with excess mucus, providing further environments for bacterial growth. While ear infections are the most common affliction of the middle ear, especially in children, any disorder that impairs the Eustachian tubes can lead to ear pain when swallowing. Decongestants may help ease a blocked Eustachian tube, but ear infections require antibiotic treatment in order to fully heal.
Just as an ear infection can evoke pain in the throat, a throat infection can lead to pain in the ears due to the direct connection between the two areas through both the Eustachian tubes and the cranial nerves. Most cases of sore throat are viral infections, and treatment will generally center around easing symptoms, provided the infection is not extremely severe. Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, can be cured with antibiotics.
Swimmer's ear is an inflammation of the ear canal, involving primarily the outer ear as opposed to the inner ear. In most cases, water becomes clogged in the ear after swimming, especially in lakes and oceans, providing an environment prone to infection. Typically, the only direct symptom of swimmer's ear is acute pain in the ear, particularly when it is touched or pulled, but throat irritation and ear pain when swallowing may also be secondary manifestations of the infection.
Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils caused by infection, either viral or bacterial. In most cases, tonsillitis will cause the patient to exhibit mild to severe versions of many common symptoms of sore throat, including ear pain when swallowing. If the infection is bacterial, tonsillitis can be treated with antibiotics. Otherwise, over-the-counter medications and home remedies can ease symptoms of tonsillitis, and in severe, chronic cases, the tonsils can be surgically removed.
Laryngitis refers to an inflammation of the larynx that can be caused by a variety of factors, including infection, overuse of the vocal chords and excessive smoking. Patients will usually experience a loss or hoarseness of voice along with many symptoms typical of sore throat and cold or flu. Many cases of laryngitis will involve difficulty swallowing and, subsequently, possible ear pain when swallowing as well. The treatment of laryngitis depends on its cause. Situations such as infection and acid reflux can be treated with medication, while vocal chord disorders may require speech therapy or surgery.