Can an Ear Infection Cause a Sore Throat?

A sore throat and ear infections can often go hand-in-hand, which may cause someone to question if ear infections cause sore throats. In most cases, ear infections result from viruses or bacteria that have already infected the throat, so while both occur simultaneously, the sore throat is from the viral or bacterial infection and not the ear infection itself. However, in some cases, ear infections cause swelling of the lymph nodes, leading to pain in the throat. 

There’s a lot to consider regarding ear infections, sore throats, and the conditions that cause them, which have been outlined below. 

Can Ear Infections Spread to The Throat? 

A canal called the eustachian tube connects the ear and throat, and this tube plays a vital role in balancing pressure between the outer and inner ear. It accomplishes this by opening and closing when performing actions such as chewing, swallowing, or yawning. 

An ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear. Fluid in the ear becomes infected, and with that, the body experiences inflammation which causes the eustachian tube to swell and become blocked, keeping the infected fluid trapped in the middle ear cavity. 

In most cases, an ear infection won’t infect the throat because of the swelling that keeps the eustachian tubes clogged and the infected fluid trapped. However, most ear infections result from a viral or bacterial infection that comes from the throat through the eustachian tube. This is why many cases of ear infections follow the flu, a cold, or an upper respiratory infection. 

Ear infections can, however, result in swollen lymph nodes as the immune system fights the infection. Because of the ear’s proximity to the throat, the lymph nodes that swell up are often those around the throat. When swollen, lymph nodes can become sore and lead to throat pain. 

Is Earache and Sore Throat A Covid Symptom? 

While there are a few common symptoms between ear infections and COVID-19, such as a headache and fever, earaches are not a symptom of COVID-19. 

However, one symptom of COVID-19 is a sore throat, with additional symptoms including dry coughs, nasal congestion, shortness of breath, chills, and muscle aches. 

Symptoms Of Ear Infection and Sore Throat 

Ear Infection Symptoms

  • dull, burning, or sharp pain in one or both ears
  • feeling of fullness in the ear
  • muffled hearing
  • popping in the ear
  • fluid drainage from the ear

Sore Throat Symptoms

  • dry or scratchy feeling in the throat
  • mild to severe pain
  • hoarseness
  • pain when swallowing
  • swollen tonsils
  • redness in the back of the throat
  • white patches on tonsils

What Can Cause an Ear Infection and Sore Throat? 

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils, two glands located on either side of the throat, become inflamed. There are many possible causes of this inflammation, including viruses and bacteria such as the flu or common cold. 

The most common symptoms of tonsillitis include a sore throat and red, swollen tonsils, but other symptoms include:

  • ear pain when swallowing
  • throat pain when swallowing
  • white or yellow spots on the tonsils
  • fever
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Because of the proximity of the tonsils to the eustachian tube, it is possible for the infection causing tonsillitis to spread to the ear canal and infect the fluid filling the middle ear. 

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a contagious infection caused by a group of bacteria infecting the throat. Since strep throat impacts the throat, it is possible for the bacteria to also infect the ear through the eustachian tube, which can then cause an ear infection. 

Symptoms of a strep throat include:

  • very painful sore throat
  • fever
  • small red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • white spots or pus on the tonsils
  • swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck

Allergies

While most ear infections result from a viral or bacterial infection, they can also result from allergies. This occurs when the immune system’s allergic reaction causes inflammation and congestion in the sinuses, nasal passageways, and eustachian tubes. This action may result in the buildup of fluid behind the eardrum, increasing the risk of viruses or bacteria growing in the fluid, leading to an ear infection. 

Additionally, allergies can cause a sore throat, often due to postnasal drip, which can irritate the throat and cause pain. 

Other symptoms of allergies include:

  • sneezing
  • itchy or watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • nasal congestion

How Do You Know If You Have a Bacterial Infection in Your Throat? 

The throat can become infected by both viruses and bacteria, so it can be difficult to distinguish between these two types of infections. However, bacterial infections in the throat will often appear with red and swollen tonsils. Additionally, there may be white spots or pus on the tonsils. 

Can Ear Infections Cause a Sore Throat on One Side? 

When someone has an ear infection, the lymph nodes swell up as the immune system works to fight the infection. There are lymph nodes all throughout the body, but with an ear infection, the closest lymph nodes are those by the throat, so these are typically the ones to swell up. 

If someone only has an ear infection on one side, only the lymph nodes on that side of the throat may swell since they are closest to the infection. When the lymph nodes swell, they can become painful, contributing to a sore throat. If only one side of the lymph nodes kicks into action, only one side of the throat may be sore. 

How Do You Get Rid of a Sore Throat and Ear Infection? 

There are many home remedies that may offer relief as the infection works its way out of the body. 

Get Plenty of Rest

The immune system is most productive when we are sleeping, so it is crucial to ensure that you are getting plenty of rest when sick. In addition to getting enough sleep, this can include taking things easy and not pushing the body too much, as this may cause the body to direct actions away from fighting the infection and can leave you sicker for longer. 

Drink Fluids

Drinking fluids is essential for helping the immune system function at its best, but it can also help relieve symptoms. Warm fluids in particular, such as tea or broth, can be soothing for a sore throat and help reduce some of the pain. 

OTC Medication

For those with a fever, OTC medication can help to relieve the fever and make you more comfortable. 

OTC pain medication is another option to help relieve the unpleasant symptoms and make getting through the day more bearable. 

Those with allergies can reduce their symptoms with OTC antihistamines, which can help relieve ear pain and clear up a sore throat. 

How Long Is Too Long for A Sore Throat? 

In most cases, a sore throat will clear up within a week, with the above home remedies potentially helping to speed up this process. However, it is recommended to visit a doctor for sore throats that persist for longer than a week.

When Should I Go to The Doctor for A Sore Throat and Earache? 

If your ear pain is sudden and will not go away, it is recommended to visit a doctor to inquire about medication. For bacterial infections of the ear, antibiotics can be prescribed to fight the infection. 

It is also recommended to visit a doctor if your ear and throat pain is accompanied by a high fever or other unpleasant symptoms. 

Get Help from An Online Doctor 

Online doctors are a valuable resource for discussing a sore throat or ear infection. Furthermore, all doctors you can meet with in virtual doctor apps, such as DrHouse, are board-certified and can write prescriptions, including antibiotics. When using DrHouse, you can meet with a doctor in as little as 15 minutes, allowing you to get the advice you need to feel better faster. 

Key Takeaways 

The connecting point between the ear canal and throat makes it possible for bacterial, viral, or upper respiratory infections to spread to the ear canal, which is the most likely cause of ear infections. However, the spread of germs does not typically occur in the other direction. 

Ear infections can cause a sore throat, though, because of the actions of the lymph nodes, which swell to fight infection. With an ear infection, the lymph nodes around the throat may swell, which can cause pain. 

Many types of infections can cause ear infections and sore throats, but COVID-19 is not currently recognized as one of them. Additionally, ear infections can occur without another illness when allergies cause swelling in the eustachian tubes. 

Most ear infections and sore throats will clear up over the course of a week, with some home remedies helping to relieve unpleasant symptoms. Those with symptoms that persist for longer than a week or a high fever should visit a doctor. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear up the ear infection.

Sources

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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