Sore Throat and Ear Pain

Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Having a sore throat and ear pain at the same time is common because these parts of your body are connected by the Eustachian tube.

When there is a problem in your ears, nose, or throat (like an infection), the link between these parts means it's more likely you'll also have symptoms in more than one.

Throat pain is a common symptom of a cold or the flu. When throat pain occurs with ear pain, the causes can include allergies, infections, or tonsillitis.

A person holding something to their neck (Home Remedies for Throat and Ear Pain)

Verywell / Nez Riaz

This article will go over the different causes of sore throat and ear pain, how the symptoms can be treated, and when to see a provider for them.

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis (mono) is an infection that is common in teens and young adults. Mono is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is often called the "kissing disease" because it is easily spread through saliva.

In addition to a sore throat and ear pain, the symptoms of mono can also include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • An enlarged spleen

Treatment

Mono cannot be treated with antibiotics because it's caused by a virus. It may take many weeks to fully recover. Treatment for mono includes rest, increased fluid intake, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not open and close properly, which lets stomach acid back up into the esophagus. Sometimes, the acid goes back far enough that it irritates the back of the throat.

Acid reflux is common, but it's not known how many people with the condition have a sore throat and ear pain as symptoms.

If you have acid reflux, you might find that the pain in your throat and ears is worse when you are lying down or right when you wake up in the morning.

Treatment

There are many medications available to treat acid reflux. Some are OTC drugs and others require a prescription. Examples of medications for acid reflux include antacids (Tums or Rolaids), H2 blockers (Zantac, Pepcid), and proton-pump inhibitors (Nexium, Prilosec).

If you have acid reflux, sleep with your upper body elevated, avoid eating late at night, and keep track of foods that might trigger your symptoms.

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is when the tonsils get bigger than normal and are inflamed. Tonsillitis can cause throat and ear pain and can make it hard to swallow. Common causes of tonsillitis are colds, mono, and strep throat.

The term "tonsillitis" applies to enlarged, inflamed tonsils regardless of what's causing them.

Treatment

Antibiotics can be used to treat strep throat because the infection is caused by bacteria. A viral illness like a cold or the flu can't be treated with antibiotics, but you can ease your symptoms as you recover.

If you do not have a positive strep test and won't be taking antibiotics, the treatment for tonsillitis mostly includes resting and easing your symptoms. Cool beverages and chilled foods can help ease throat pain. You can also use ice packs and OTC pain relievers.

In severe cases of tonsillitis, prescription pain relievers or steroid medications can be prescribed to help reduce the size of the tonsils.

Tooth Infection

An infected or abscessed tooth can cause throat or ear pain, depending on where the infected tooth is and whether it's spread.

Other symptoms of an infected tooth include:

  • Shooting pain that you feel in your neck, jawbone, or ear
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Treatment

If you think that you have an infected tooth, see a dentist as soon as possible. Treatment for the infection (including antibiotics if needed) will help prevent it from spreading.

In some cases, your dentist might need to do a procedure like an incision and drainage, a root canal, or tooth extraction, to treat the infection.

Allergies

Allergies are a common cause of throat pain and ear pain. Other symptoms of allergies depend on what the trigger is but can include:

  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Scratchy throat or hoarseness
  • Skin rashes

Treatment

Allergies can be treated with antihistamines and immunotherapy (allergy shots).

You can prevent allergy symptoms like a sore throat and ear pain by finding out what your triggers are and doing your best to avoid them.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that commonly causes throat and ear pain, especially in children and teens. Other symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Pain when swallowing
  • White patches on the tonsils
  • Fever

Treatment

Strep throat needs to be treated with antibiotics. If it's not treated, the infection can lead to serious heart complications and kidney problems.

While you're healing from strep throat, staying hydrated, resting, and taking OTC pain relievers can help with your symptoms.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis refers to any inflammation of the system of air-filled pockets in the face (sinuses). The inflammation can be from a bacterial, fungal, or viral sinus infection, allergies, or conditions related to the anatomy of your nose, like a deviated septum.

In addition to a sore throat and ear pain, other symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • Congestion
  • Headache
  • General cold symptoms like fatigue

Treatment

Sinusitis treatment depends on what's causing it. OTC medicines, decongestants, and nasal rinses can help alleviate symptoms. Antibiotics are not usually needed unless the infection is caused by bacteria.

Occasionally, sinus surgery is needed to treat conditions like a deviated septum or nasal polyps (soft growths inside the nose and sinuses that are not cancerous).

TMJ

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. The joint is located near your ear and is what lets your mouth move when you chew and talk. If you have TMJ pain, it might radiate to your ear.

Other symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Painful clicking in your jaw
  • Locking of your jaw
  • Stiffness or pain in your face, jaw, or neck

Treatment

Some common treatments for TMJ include exercises for your jaw, relaxation techniques, heating pads or ice packs, eating soft foods, and wearing bite guards for teeth grinding or clenching.

In some cases, botox or muscle relaxants can be prescribed to ease the symptoms of TMJ.

Is Throat and Ear Pain a Symptom of COVID-19?

A sore throat and earache can be symptoms of COVID-19. If you've been exposed to someone with COVID or you have other COVID symptoms like fever, muscle aches, and a loss of taste or smell, take a test.

Throat and Ear Pain on One Side

Many conditions can cause you to have ear and throat pain on just one side. For example, TMJ, an infected tooth, and sinusitis could all potentially cause ear and throat pain on only one side.

Throat and Ear Pain While Swallowing

The ear and throat are connected by the auditory tube (Eustachian tube), which opens and closes when you swallow.

Since these parts of your body are linked, you might have pain in your throat and your ear when you swallow if you have tonsillitis or an infection like mono or strep throat.

These infections can also cause problems in the auditory tube, including inflammation, infection, and mucus build-up.

Throat and Ear Pain That Doesn't Go Away

Throat and ear pain can come and go or can be constant and slow to get better, depending on what is causing the symptoms.

For example, acid reflux is more likely to cause pain that is worse in the morning and gets better later in the day. Seasonal allergies, strep throat, and mono are more likely to come with throat and ear pain that does not go away until the conditions are treated.

Could It Be Cancer?

If you have throat pain that lasts more than two weeks or you have a history of alcohol or tobacco use or exposure, talk to your provider. Pain that's not getting better could be a sign of throat cancer.

Diagnosing Throat and Ear Pain

To diagnose the cause of your throat and ear pain, your provider might do a rapid strep test, a mono spot test, or a throat culture.

If these tests do not find the cause of your pain, you might need to have a computed tomography (CT) scan to look at your sinuses, allergy testing, or an endoscopy (the use of a thin, hollow tube with a light and camera) to look down your throat.

Your provider might also have you try medications that help with specific conditions, like acid reflux, to see if it makes your symptoms better.

Home Remedies for Throat and Ear Pain

There are a few things that you can try to relieve your throat and ear pain at home, including:

Summary

Pain in the throat and in one or both ears can happen separately or at the same time. Infections, allergies, and disorders of the jaw are a few common reasons for throat and ear pain.

Conditions that cause throat and ear pain can be treated in different ways—for example, with prescription or OTC medications and home remedies. For more serious conditions, surgical treatments might be necessary.

A Word From Verywell

If you have throat and ear pain, you'll probably be able to treat your symptoms at home. However, if the pain does not improve or it gets worse, talk to your provider.

While many cases of pain in the throat and ear can be eased with OTC medications and home remedies, some will require more specialized medical attention and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes throat and ear pain on one side?

    Infections like the common cold, strep throat, mono, sinus infections, tooth infections, allergies, TMJ, and acid reflux can all cause pain in the throat and ear.

    Usually, you'll have throat and ear pain on both sides. However, some causes are more likely than others to lead to one-sided ear and throat pain.

    For example, if one of your tonsils is more irritated than the other, you might feel discomfort mostly on that side.

    It's also possible to get an ear infection in one ear but not the other. Conditions like TMJ can cause pain on both sides or just one side.

  • What are home remedies for throat and ear pain when swallowing?

    Eat soft, cold foods that are easy to chew and swallow, drink plenty of cool fluids, and take OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen for about 30 to 60 minutes before eating and drinking.

  • What can help ease a sore throat and ear pain?

    OTC pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) can help relieve your symptoms. Cough drops can soothe the back of the throat, as can cold foods and fluids. You can also apply heating pads or ice packs on your neck or near your affected ear.

    Keeping your upper body elevated if you have acid reflux can help prevent acid from coming up the esophagus into the back of your throat. This position can also encourage the auditory tube to drain if it is clogged with mucus or debris.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ear, Nose, and Throat Facts.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About Mono (Infectious Mononucleosis).

  3. Central California Endoscopy Center. 10 GERD Symptoms Not Recognized by Most Acid Reflux Sufferers.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux).

  5. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Tonsillitis.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Abscessed Tooth.

  7. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergy Treatment.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strep Throat: All You Need to Know.

  9. ENT Health. Sinusitis.

  10. Colgate. How TMJ and Ear Pain are Related and Treated.

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.