Sore throat and ear pain

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Relationship between ear, nose and throat: glossopharyngeal neuralgia

The ears, nose and throat are located near to each other are closely related but have different functions. The ears and nose are sensory organs necessary for the sense of hearing, balance and smell. The throat functions primarily as a pathway through which food and liquids pass to the oesophagus and air passes to the lungs. 

Symptoms of sharp throat and ear pain

Given the interrelationship of these organs, sore throats and earaches often occur at the same time. Whether it is a viral or bacterial infection, a sore throat or pharyngitis can trigger an inflammation of the back of the throat as well as an earache.

Symptoms of a sore throat

The symptoms of sore throat are the following: pain when swallowing, coughing, burning and sometimes fever. It is a common condition in the winter season but it is not always related to the cold. Various other factors can trigger it such as dry air, irritating vapours, allergies, smoking and, of course, cold and flu-like conditions.

Ear pain symptoms

An earache is accompanied by the feeling of having a 'plugged' ear, which is very common when you are suffering from the common cold or the flu. The ear is a rather delicate organ and temperature changes can generate buzzing and intense pain.

What causes sore throat and ear pain?

The root causes of sore throats and earaches can vary, so we will explore them in detail in the next paragraphs.

Tonsillitis

Sore throat, pain when swallowing and earache are the main symptoms of tonsillitis. As a matter of fact, the tonsils are located between the mouth and the pharynx and, as a result, they are often exposed to inflammation that is generally viral and less frequently bacterial. Adenovirus and rhinovirus are the viruses most frequently responsible for inflammation. On the other hand, streptococcus is the common bacteria responsible for tonsillitis.

Allergies

Sore throat and ear pain are not just caused by microbes (viruses or bacteria). Frequently, a sore throat can result from allergies. A 'sore throat', or to put it more scientificall pharyngeal pain, is in most cases an inflammation which, whether infectious or allergic, can irritate the tissues of the pharynx.

Acid reflux

Acid reflux can also be a source of sore throats. The burning in the throat sensation caused by reflux can lead to laryngitis that manifests itself as dryness in the throat. The stomach acid that rises to the mouth irritates the mucous membranes and causes a bitter mouth and a dry cough. A reflux sore throat is caused precisely by inflammatory processes in the pharyngeal mucosa. It manifests itself as a lump-like feeling in the throat and discomfort when swallowing.

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis, a common viral inflammation in adolescents and young adults, can also trigger a sore throat and earache. In its advanced phase, the disease is characterised by the presence of yellowish-white plaques on the tonsils, which often grow to a considerable size, preventing normal swallowing.

Tooth Infection

Problems in the dental cavities, such as infections, can spread to the ears, nose and throat and trigger more serious conditions.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane which lines the cavities around the nose and eyes and can be a major trigger in the onset of conditions such as toothaches and oral cavity infections.

Irritations & other possibilities

Various types of irritation of the laryngopharyngeal tract can cause sore throats and earaches.

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What is Glossopharyngeal neuralgia?

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia consists of recurring episodes of intense pain in the back of the throat, the area near the tonsils, the back of the tongue, part of the ear and/or the area under the back of the jaw. The cause is often unknown, but sometimes it is an abnormally positioned artery that exerts pressure (compresses) on the glossopharyngeal nerve.

It is a rare disorder that usually starts after the age of 40 and occurs most frequently in men. The same drugs used to treat trigeminal neuralgia can help: anticonvulsant drugs (carbamazepine, gabapentin or phenytoin), baclofen and tricyclic antidepressants. However, for permanent relief, surgery may be required to separate the glossopharyngeal nerve from the artery that is compressing it by placing a small sponge between them (vascular decompression).

Ear and throat pain on one side

It is possible for ear and throat pain to affect only one side. The perception of the source of the pain essentially depends on the location of the swelling.

Throat and ear pain while swallowing

Since pharyngitis, or a sore throat, is an inflammation of the pharynx, experiencing pain when swallowing is a common symptom. The pharynx is a muscular-membranous canal located at the back of the throat that allows food to enter the esophagus.

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Remedies and medical treatment

The key to easing the discomfort of sore throats, such as burning, irritation and dryness, is good hydration. Below are a few basic and simple remedies for sore throats and earaches:

  • Keeping the environment at the right humidity (40-60%)
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to ensure the right moisture level in the throat and prevent dehydration 
  • Apply emollient sprays several times during the day. This remedy can help speed up the healing of sore throats. 
  • Gargle and rinse with medical mouthwash.

While rest is also indispensable to alleviate symptoms, make sure to seek medical advice if your condition persists or worsens.

Home remedies

If you rather steer clear from pharmaceuticals, there are a handful of natural remedies options available. You can soothe your sore throat by taking one or two teaspoons of honey, taking propolis for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, or gargling water and lemon or water with sodium bicarbonate. To treat your earache, the helichrysum essential oil has a sedative, expectorant and anti-inflammatory action, and the melaleuca essential oil is a decongestant, antiseptic, bactericidal and immunostimulant.

Medical treatment

The most commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs to treat sore throats include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). In particular, anti-inflammatory drugs belonging to the arylalkanoic acid group, such as Flurbiprofen; Ketoprofen; Ibuprofen. These active ingredients are available in different pharmaceutical formulations: they are often contained in oral sprays that are to be nebulised directly onto the inflamed throat, as well as in tablets or candies to be dissolved slowly in the mouth.

All of these are also available in pharmaceutical formulations for oral use. Many of the medicines containing the above-mentioned NSAIDs can also be purchased without a prescription, as they are over-the-counter (OTC) or SOP (No Prescription Required) medicines. However, before using them, it is always a good idea to consult a doctor.

When to see your doctor

If the symptoms persist or if the pain in the throat and ear intensifies or does not improve with each passing day, it is imperative that you consult a medical professional.

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