Have you ever swallowed and felt sharp pain on one side of your throat? This can occur for many reasons.

Something could be affecting one side of your body, like an abscess or swollen body part.

Or, pain on one side of your throat could be due to your body position. If you sleep on one side of your body, you may feel symptoms on that side more acutely when you wake up.

Keep reading to learn what might be causing the sharp pain on one side of your throat when you swallow, along with treatment options and when to see a doctor.

Your throat includes several parts of your body from your tonsils to your esophagus. The act of swallowing occurs in three different stages, in the:

  1. mouth
  2. larynx and epiglottis
  3. esophagus

One-sided pain when swallowing may occur in or near any of these parts of your body. Here are some conditions (both common and uncommon) that may be causing your discomfort:

Possible causes of pain on one side of throat when swallowingCommon or uncommon
acid reflux or laryngopharyngeal refluxcommon
postnasal dripcommon
swollen lymph nodescommon
laryngitiscommon
tonsillitiscommon
canker sorecommon
abscessed or impacted toothuncommon
epiglottitisuncommon
glossopharyngeal neuralgiauncommon
mouth cancer, throat cancer, esophageal canceruncommon

Acid reflux from gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) or laryngopharyngeal reflux (airway reflux)

Reflux can cause more than just indigestion. It can cause a burning or painful sensation in your throat and even an irritating postnasal drip. Ear pain can also occur from reflux.

Reflux is a common condition that may occur infrequently or more often depending on several factors, including:

  • your anatomy
  • lifestyle
  • diet

Postnasal drip

Our bodies process mucus and saliva like clockwork, but there may be reasons postnasal drip increases or becomes noticeable, leading to painful swallowing.

Reflux, viruses, allergies, and even certain foods can cause pain or swelling in the throat and possibly increased production of mucus and saliva. This may prompt you to experience pain while swallowing.

Swollen lymph nodes

You have many lymph nodes in your head and neck. If they become swollen, you may experience swallowing discomfort.

Swollen lymph nodes can occur if you have a virus or bacterial infection, or even a tooth abscess or another health condition that compromises your immune system.

Laryngitis

Strain in your vocal cords is known as laryngitis. You may sound hoarse and experience discomfort in your throat.

You may be susceptible to laryngitis if you have a virus or bacterial infection or use your voice frequently, among other causes.

Tonsillitis

Your tonsils may be infected, causing pain when you swallow. Children and teens most often have tonsillitis. Swollen lymph nodes can also occur with tonsillitis.

You may experience tonsillitis because of a virus or bacterial infection.

Canker sore

Pain when swallowing may be caused by irritation in your mouth caused by a canker sore. These are ulcers that appear anywhere in your mouth for a week or even longer.

You may experience one because of your diet, mouth trauma, stress, or bacteria, among other causes.

Abscessed or impacted tooth

Poor dental health may lead to swallowing pain.

Ignoring cavities can result in abscesses. Abscesses can lead to pain in your neck, jaw, and ear and cause swallowing problems. You may feel these symptoms just on the side with the infected tooth.

Impacted wisdom teeth can affect your jaw. They may also lead to a cyst developing on one side of your mouth. This could interfere with swallowing.

Wisdom teeth become impacted when they cannot grow in as a normal set of molars. Instead, they stay below the gums’ surface.

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Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis may cause pain in your throat and difficulty swallowing. It requires immediate medical treatment.

This condition occurs when the flap in your throat becomes damaged from trauma, a burn, or an infection and restricts air to your lungs.

You may also have symptoms like:

  • a fever
  • high-pitched noises when you breathe
  • vocal changes

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia

Pain on one side of your throat after swallowing could be the result of nerve pain from glossopharyngeal neuralgia. This condition can occur on one side in the ears, back of the tongue, tonsil, or in the jaw.

This is a rare condition that can cause attacks of sudden and severe pain. You can have several of these attacks throughout days and weeks. Swallowing may trigger the pain.

Mouth, throat, or esophageal cancer

These types of cancer can cause pain when you swallow. You may have an earache or a lump in your neck if you have throat cancer causing one-sided pain.

Mouth cancer can cause painful swallowing as well as pain in your jaw and sores or lumps in your mouth.

Esophageal cancer may lead to painful swallowing as well as reflux.

This symptom may be caused by several conditions, all which require different treatments:

  • Reflux. Reflux-related conditions may be treated with over-the-counter medications to decrease acid in your stomach as well as dietary and other lifestyle changes.
  • Postnasal drip. Postnasal drip may require different treatments depending on the cause. Keeping hydrated may help as well as taking allergy medications or decongestants.
  • Swollen lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes may go away as your body fights off a virus and infection, or you may need prescription medications. Apply a warm compress or take an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce painful symptoms.
  • Laryngitis. Laryngitis could go away on its own but may require medications like antibiotics or steroids. Keeping your throat moist with a humidifier or by drinking water may help.
  • Tonsillitis. Tonsillitis may be soothed by gargling salt water, using a humidifier, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. You may need antibiotics if the cause is bacterial.
  • Abscessed or impacted tooth. Abscessed teeth will need to be treated by a dentist and may result in a root canal. Your dentist may recommend surgically removing your impacted wisdom teeth.
  • Canker sore. Canker sores will usually go away on their own, but you may find relief with mouth rinses, as well as topical or oral medications.
  • Epiglottitis. Epiglottitis treatment will focus on opening up your airways and treating any infections with antibiotics.
  • Glossopharyngeal neuralgia. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia may be treated with prescription medications, a nerve block, or even surgery.
  • Mouth, throat, or esophageal cancer. Cancer treatment can include surgery, medications, chemotherapy, and radiation.

You should always seek a doctor if you experience life-threatening symptoms such as:

See a doctor for less severe symptoms if they don’t clear up in the expected amount of time or if they get worse. Ignoring symptoms may lead to more significant health concerns, so don’t delay a diagnosis.

A doctor will:

  • discuss your symptoms
  • perform a physical exam
  • order any tests necessary to diagnose the condition

Several conditions may contribute to pain on one side of your throat when swallowing.

Consider your other symptoms to determine what might be causing the swallowing discomfort. Some conditions may require immediate medical care, while others may be treated with home-based remedies and rest.

Talk to a doctor if you have any concerns about your symptoms.