Why does my throat burn when I swallow?

Why does my throat burn when I swallow?

If you’ve got a painful sore throat, you’ll know just how much it can impact your daily activities. From making it hard to drink and eat the foods you love to exacerbating other symptoms like coughs and fevers, a burning throat can make getting through the day a real chore. It can be even worse if you don’t know what’s causing it. 

Although some of the conditions we’ve listed below are easy to self-diagnose, it may be best to get checked by a medical professional – especially if your symptoms are severe and not responding to over the counter (OTC) medicines. You should also get medical advice if your symptoms are lasting longer than expected, as this could be a sign of something more serious[1]

1. Cold and flu

If your sore throat is caused by a cold or the flu, you may also have these symptoms:

  • A runny or blocked nose
  • A headache
  • A cough
  • Sneezing
  • Muscle aches
  • A high temperature
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

The key difference between a cold and the flu is the severity of the illness. Flu will come on a lot quicker than a cold, and the symptoms will have more impact on your daily life. You’ll likely feel well enough to go to work if you have a cold, whereas the flu can make you feel exhausted. Both illnesses can be treated with OTC medicines. The flu vaccine can help to prevent you from getting the flu[2,3].

2. Acid reflux

Acid reflux is a condition where some of your stomach acid comes back up your throat. This can cause pain and inflammation, and sometimes a bad taste. If you have acid reflux, you may also suffer from heartburn – a burning sensation in the chest caused by the acid travelling up your throat. These symptoms may be worse after eating, or when bending over or lying down.

A common way to reduce acid reflux is to keep your head higher than your body when you’re sleeping. This can be done by using extra pillows, or putting something underneath one end of your mattress. You could also change your diet to avoid trigger foods, eat smaller meals, and try to eat a few hours before going to bed, in order to let your food digest properly[4].

3. Post-nasal drip

Some sore throats can come about as a result of a post-nasal drip. This is where mucus drips down into your throat from the back of the nose, causing irritation and inflammation. Post-nasal drips can be caused by[5]:

  • Nasal polyps
  • Bacterial infections
  • Allergies
  • Certain medications
  • Acid reflux
  • Age

How you treat a post-nasal drip depends on what is causing it, so it’s best to consult a medical professional who can help you get to the bottom of it.

4. Strep throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can cause a sore throat. It is caused by streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, also known as group A strep, and is often more severe and longer lasting than a regular sore throat.

Treating strep throat can take different forms. Because strep throat is a bacterial infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help your body fight the infection. The antibiotics should speed up your recovery. You can also use other sore throat remedies, such as gargling with salt water or using painkillers to ease the sore throat in the meantime[6]

5. Glandular fever

Another potential cause of a sore throat is glandular fever. This is a condition you get if you’ve been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus. A sore throat will often come alongside swollen glands, fatigue, and a high temperature. Most of these symptoms should clear up within two to three weeks, however fatigue can last for months after your infection.

There is no cure for glandular fever, but it will usually get better on its own[7]. You can treat the individual symptoms to ease discomfort while the infection runs its course. To treat the sore throat, you could try Chloralieve’s soothing throat lozenges or, if the pain is severe, painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen.

6. Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is a condition where a hot, tingling sensation is felt in the tongue, lips and mouth. It’s not clear what causes it, but it can affect anyone, and may cause a sore throat. The sensation may stop and start, or it may be a continuous pain. 

Since little is known about what causes burning mouth syndrome, there is no cure. This is a long-term condition that can affect a person for months or even years. Some foods may relieve pain, and it has been suggested that keeping the mouth moist can help to prevent pain from dryness[8]


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sore-throat/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/flu/

[4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heartburn-and-acid-reflux/

[5] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nasal-polyps/

[6] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/strep-a/

[7] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/glandular-fever/

[8] https://www.esht.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/0919.pdf