What are odynophagia and dysphagia?

The difference between odynophagia and dysphagia is that dysphagia is difficulty swallowing and odynophagia is painful swallowing.
The difference between odynophagia and dysphagia is that dysphagia is difficulty swallowing and odynophagia is painful swallowing.

Dysphagia is a medical term that describes difficulty swallowing. It can feel like you have something stuck in your throat or chest that is preventing you from swallowing correctly.

There are two types of dysphagia:

  • Esophageal dysphagia – the sensation that you have food stuck in your throat or chest after you begin to swallow
  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia – difficulty with the act of swallowing

Odynophagia is a medical term that describes pain with swallowing. When you swallow, you may feel pain or a burning sensation in your throat or breastbone. It may present as chest tightness or heaviness.

When discerning between odynophagia and dysphagia, you should know that either of these sensations may occur when food first enters your throat from your mouth, or as it passes further down in your esophageal tract.

Symptoms of odynophagia and dysphagia

Since different medical conditions can contribute to each of these sensations, your symptoms will vary based on what’s causing the disorder. If you feel pain or discomfort when swallowing that isn’t going away, talk to your doctor.

Dysphagia

Difficulty swallowing may be accompanied by:

  • Food getting stuck in your throat or chest
  • Food and drink entering your nose or airways
  • Frequent regurgitation
  • Choking or coughing while eating and drinking
  • Your voice becoming hoarse

Odynophagia

Pain when swallowing may be accompanied by:

  • Heaviness in your chest
  • Burning sensations
  • Pressure when swallowing
  • Feeling like food is stuck in your throat or chest

Causes of odynophagia and dysphagia

Causes of dysphagia may include:

  • Compression from tumor growth in your chest
  • Structural damage to nerves
  • Muscles that are weak or stretched out

Causes of odynophagia may include:

Stages of odynophagia and dysphagia

Dysphagia has two stages:

  • Oropharyngeal stage – this stage affects the muscles in the tongue that contract to trigger the swallowing reflex
  • Esophageal stage – this stage affects the ability of esophageal muscles to relax as food is pushed into the stomach for digestion

While dysphagia is a condition of its own, odynophagia is considered a symptom of a more serious condition. Similar to dysphagia, it can occur in your throat where swallowing begins, or in your chest as food moves toward the stomach.

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Diagnosis of odynophagia and dysphagia

First, your doctor will ask about your symptoms to determine which condition you may have. They will complete a physical examination to look for redness and inflammation in your throat and feel for swelling.

Additional tests can provide your doctor with a better idea of the condition of your digestive tract:

  • Upper endoscopy – this is a long tool with a camera and light that allows your doctor to see the path food follows into your stomach
  • Esophagram – you will drink a substance including barium followed by an x-ray that shows how substances travel through your system
  • Esophageal manometry – a pressure test to see how your muscles function during swallowing
  • pH and impedance tests – to determine if there is reflux causing damage to your esophagus
  • Swallow tests – allows your doctor to see how your body responds to various textures of food, drink, and even puffs of air

Treatments of odynophagia and dysphagia

Lifestyle changes

Your doctor may suggest that you make adjustments to your diet to alleviate symptoms. This can include smaller bites of food, avoiding certain food and drinks, or chewing food longer before swallowing.

Therapy

A physical therapist can work with you on exercises to strengthen your face and neck muscles, improving your ability to swallow. This extends to techniques in how you swallow. For example, a “chin tuck” helps keep food out of your trachea.

Medication

If conditions like reflex are affecting your ability to swallow, your doctor may prescribe medicine to limit how much stomach acid you produce. Pain medication can also help with symptoms of discomfort, although you still need to address the condition that is causing you pain.

Surgery

In some cases, your doctor may need to perform surgery to fix damage or deformities in your digestive tract that affect swallowing. They may also need to remove tumors or cancer causing pressure on your chest and throat.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/19/2021
References
American College of Gastroenterology: "Dysphagia."

Clinical Medicine: "Acute oesophageal symptoms."

Stanford Health Care: "Types of Urinary Tract Infections."

University of Florida Health: "Painful swallowing."

Yale Medicine: "Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)."