Pain when swallowing is a common problem often caused by a throat infection or injury. It’s not unusual for these conditions to also cause pain when yawning due to inflammation of the tissues in your throat.

Most of the causes of pain when yawning, such as the common cold or flu, aren’t usually serious. Rarely, yawning pain may be a sign of a life threatening medical condition like throat cancer or epiglottitis.

Keep reading as we take a look at some of the likely reasons why you may feel pain when yawning and how these conditions are treated.

Here are some of the reasons why your throat may be irritated and hurt when you yawn.

Throat dryness

A dry throat can cause irritation that gives your throat a scratchy feeling, especially when swallowing, talking, or yawning. A dry throat often develops when your membranes don’t produce enough mucus to keep your esophagus moist.

Many factors can contribute, including:

Common cold, flu, and COVID-19

Many types of viruses, such as those responsible for the common cold, flu, and COVID-19, can enter the tissue in your throat and cause inflammation. When you yawn, air, food particles, and saliva may contact the inflamed areas and stimulate pain receptors.

About 50 to 80 percent of sore throats are caused by viral infections. Throat inflammation can also be caused by pharyngitis.

Strep throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by highly contagious Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. It commonly causes a sore throat, especially when swallowing, but yawning can also potentially irritate inflamed areas.

Strep throat makes up about 5 to 15 percent of adult sore throat cases and 20 to 30 percent in children.

Throat injury

Swallowing something sharp, such as a chip or cracker, can scratch the tissue in the back of your throat. The injured area may hurt when yawning or swallowing when food particles and saliva irritate the sore area.


Mononucleosis, or mono, is an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus that commonly causes a sore throat, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. This may also cause pain when swallowing.

The virus is primarily transmitted through saliva, and symptoms develop 3 to 6 weeks after exposure.


Your tonsils are two lymph nodes in the back of your throat. Tonsilitis is an infection of these lymph nodes that usually causes a very sore throat that hurts when swallowing and possibly when yawning.

Various viruses can cause tonsillitis, including the same bacteria that causes strep throat. Strep throat usually causes pharyngitis, but it can also cause tonsillitis since the throat and tonsil tissue are connected.

Symptoms of tonsilitis and strep throat are usually similar.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush is a yeast overgrowth in your mouth. It usually causes white or yellow patches in your mouth. Symptoms may also include a cotton-like sensation in your mouth and loss of taste.

Although uncommon, you can also develop esophageal thrush in your throat that causes pain when swallowing and potentially when yawning. People who are immunocompromised, such as people undergoing cancer treatment and those with HIV, are at the highest risk. Taking antibiotics also increases your risk of developing esophageal thrush.

Another risk factor of developing esophageal thrush is inhaled corticosteroid use (inhalers), which are commonly used in the treatment of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


Esophagitis is inflammation of your esophagus. It’s commonly caused by acid reflux but can also be caused by infections or as a side effect of some medications.

Symptoms often include trouble swallowing and a sore throat. Its possible yawning could also cause irritation and pain.


Epiglottitis is an infection of your epiglottis, the tissue that covers your airways when you swallow. It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection and can be potentially life threatening if your airway becomes completely blocked.

Symptoms typically include a sore throat, fever, and painful swallowing. It’s possible it could also cause pain when yawning since your epiglottis shifts when breathing and yawning.

Medical emergency

If you suspect you or somebody you know may have epiglottitis, you should immediately seek emergency medical help. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Throat cancer

Throat cancer can cause a variety of symptoms depending on the location of a tumor. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, persistent pain or discomfort in your throat is one of the most common symptoms.

Other common symptoms include:

It’s plausible a tumor could also cause pain when yawning, especially if it’s near your epiglottis.

Retropharyngeal abscess

A retropharyngeal abscess can be a complication of an upper respiratory infection or a result of trauma where bacteria can grow behind the throat and cause an abscess that can lead to trouble swallowing and breathing. It can also be associated with high fevers.

The type of pain you experience when yawning depends on the underlying cause. Pain caused by a scratch or injury may cause sharp pain on one side of your throat or in a particular spot. Tumors can also cause pain on one side of your throat.

Infections including the common cold and tonsilitis can cause pain on one or both sides of your throat. Pain caused by throat infections is often described as rough, scratchy, or itchy.

The best way to treat your sore throat depends on the underlying cause.

Antibiotics and antifungal medications

Strep throat and other bacterial infections may require antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. For oral thrush, a doctor may recommend an antifungal medication like fluconazole or clotrimazole.

General home remedies

Home remedies for treating inflammation and pain in your throat include:

  • gargling with warm saltwater regularly throughout the day
  • drinking plenty of warm fluids to help soothe your sore tissue
  • avoiding smoking and locations that expose you to secondhand smoke
  • sucking on medicated lozenges with zinc, which has shown to treat symptoms of sore throat
  • taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and acetaminophen for pain, if needed

Emergency and cancer treatments

Epiglottitis may require emergency medical treatment to improve your breathing if your airway closes off. If you’re unable to breathe, a doctor may need to perform a cricothyroidotomy or tracheostomy, which are invasive emergency procedures.

Throat cancer treatment often includes some combination of:

A retropharyngeal abscess may require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous antibiotics or possible surgical drainage.

Some other conditions like COVID-19 or tonsilitis may require emergency medical attention if you have trouble breathing or have a high fever.

Most of the time, a sore throat can be managed at home. Some signs you should seek medical attention include:

  • tonsil swelling on one side
  • a high fever
  • swollen glands
  • trouble breathing
  • severe and unrelenting pain
  • pain that persists for more than several days

Pain when yawning can be caused by a variety of medical conditions. Most of these conditions are mild, but some rarer conditions such as throat cancer or epiglottis require medical attention.

If you suspect that you have a mild infection like a common cold or flu, you can treat your symptoms with home remedies and by resting. If your symptoms don’t improve after a few days or if you develop severe symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention.