Throat and Ear Pain

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Throat pain is a common symptom of a cold or the flu. When throat pain occurs with ear pain, the cause might include allergies, postnasal drip, or tonsillitis. Here is an overview of the causes of throat and ear pain, as well as what you can do to relieve your symptoms.

If you have throat pain that lasts more than two weeks or if you have a history of significant alcohol or tobacco use or exposure, your pain may be a sign of throat cancer. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider to talk about your symptoms and risk factors.

A Black man in profile holding a hand up to his throat.

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Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is an infection that is especially common in teens and young adults. It is often called the "kissing disease" because it is easily spread through saliva.

Mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The symptoms of mono can include extreme fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, as well as throat and ear pain.

Treatment

Mono cannot be treated with antibiotics and it may take many weeks to fully recover. Treatment includes rest, increased fluid intake, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to open and close properly, which allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Sometimes, the acid can reverse far enough to irritate the back of the throat and cause symptoms such as sore throat and even ear pain.

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.

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

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, it can help to sleep with your upper body elevated, to avoid eating late at night, and to keep track of foods that may be triggering your symptoms.

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is a term that refers to enlargement and inflammation of the tonsils, the pair of soft tissue pads at the back of the throat. Tonsillitis can cause throat pain, ear pain, and difficulty swallowing.

Typical causes of tonsillitis are the common cold, mono, and strep throat. The term tonsillitis is used to describe enlarged, inflamed tonsils regardless of the underlying cause.

Treatment

Antibiotics can be used to treat strep throat, which is caused by bacteria. If you do not have a positive strep test, the treatment plan usually consists of 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 shrink the tonsils.

Tooth Infection

An infected or abscessed tooth can cause throat or ear pain, depending on the location of the infection and whether it has spread.

Other symptoms of an infected tooth include:

  • Shooting pain that radiates to the neck, jawbone, or ear
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Treatment

If you think that you have an infected tooth, see a dentist as soon as possible. Treating the infection, including with 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 and ear pain. If allergies are causing your symptoms, you may also find that the back of your throat and your ears feel itchy.

Treatment

Allergies can be treated with antihistamines, immunotherapy (allergy shots), and preventive measures such as avoiding your allergy triggers.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that commonly causes throat pain, especially in children ages 5–15 years old. Other symptoms of strep throat include difficulty swallowing, white patches on the tonsils, and fever.

Treatment

Strep throat requires treatment with an appropriate antibiotic. It's important to follow your doctor's prescribed treatment plan closely because strep throat can have serious complications including kidney or heart problems.

You can manage strep throat symptoms by drinking cold fluids and using OTC pain relievers.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is a broad term that refers to any inflammation of the sinuses, the system of air-filled pockets in the face. The inflammation can be related to a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, allergies, or anatomical conditions such as a deviated septum.

Common symptoms of sinusitis include congestion, headache, and cold symptoms (including throat or ear pain).

Treatment

Sinusitis treatment varies depending on what is causing it. OTC medications, decongestants, and nasal rinses can help alleviate symptoms. Antibiotics are not usually needed unless your doctor discovers that bacteria are causing an infection.

Occasionally, sinus surgery is needed to treat underlying conditions such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps, soft noncancerous growths inside the nose and sinuses.

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, and stiffness or pain in your face, jaw, or neck.

Treatment

Some common treatments for TMJ include relaxation techniques, heating pads or ice packs, eating soft foods, and wearing bite guards for teeth grinding or clenching. In some cases, muscle relaxants are prescribed to ease the symptoms.

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 (also called the Eustachian tube), which opens and closes when you swallow. Therefore, you might have pain in your throat and ear when you swallow if you have tonsillitis and infections like mono or strep throat.

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

Persistent Throat and Ear Pain

Throat and ear pain may come and go or it may be constant and persistent, depending on what is causing the symptoms.

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

See your healthcare provider if your sore throat lasts longer than two weeks.

Diagnosis

To diagnose the cause of your throat and ear pain, your doctor can use tests such as a rapid strep test, a mono spot test, or a throat culture.

If these tests do not identify the cause of your pain, you might need to have a computed tomography (CT) scan to view 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 doctor might also have you try medications that help acid reflux to see if it makes your symptoms better.

Home Remedies

There are a few things that you can try to relieve your throat and ear pain, such as:

  • Elevating your upper body when you sleep
  • Trying a cool-mist humidifier or nasal irrigation device (such as a neti pot)
  • Sucking on cough drops
  • Drinking plenty of cold fluids and eating ice pops or ice cream
  • Applying hot or cold packs to your throat or the side of your head over your ear

Summary

Pain in the throat and in one or both ears can occur separately or at the same time. When these symptoms happen together, there can be many causes. 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 several ways, but they commonly include 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, you will need to consult with your doctor.

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 sore throat and ear pain?

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

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 30–60 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. However, you should check with your doctor before using OTC drugs to make sure that they will not negatively interact with any other medications that you take or conditions that you have.

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.

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9 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. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About Mono (Infectious Mononucleosis). Updated September 28, 2020.

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

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

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Tonsillitis. Updated July 29, 2021.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Abscessed Tooth.

  6. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergy Treatment. Updated March 2018.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strep Throat: All You Need to Know. Updated January 12, 2021.

  8. ENT Health. Sinusitis.

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