Are you experiencing difficulty in swallowing, speaking, or snoring affecting your sleep cycle? It could be due to abnormalities related to the uvula—the teardrop-shaped piece of soft tissue hanging down from the back palate of the mouth. This tinny-looking organ visible at the back of the throat made of connective and muscle tissue, saliva-producing glands, and mucous membrane can swell in response to an illness, allergic reactions, or injury. Inflammation of the uvula, called uvulitis, can cause redness, swelling, irritation, itching, or burning, affecting its swallowing and speaking functionalities. If you are experiencing any uvula-related abnormalities, you should consult your oral care expert to get it examined as ignoring it for long could affect breathing, thus causing sleep apnea and related health issues.

What is Uvula?

The oral cavity is complex and interlinked. One simple-looking piece of soft tissue at the back of the throat is the uvula, which is very important for eating and speech functionalities. Besides anatomical complexity, the uvula works in sync with other oral organs like the tongue, teeth, and palate to ensure safe ingestion of food. When you eat, the uvula, in coordination with the soft palate, stops food and liquid from going to the nasal passage. It plays a crucial role in preventing choking by triggering reflexive push when one eats a large chunk of food.

The human mouth is home to billions of bacteria, so this soft tissue is also prone to infections caused by either injury or pathogens. So, if you notice redness, itchiness, burning, swelling of your uvula, you should get it diagnosed as this could be a sign of underlying health conditions. In most cases, inflammation of the uvula eases with OTC medication and at-home remedies like a lukewarm saltwater rinse.

However, if inflammation and swelling persists or recurs you should better seek a doctor’s help for quality treatment.

Symptoms of Swollen Uvula

Although not common, uvula and soft palate could swell in response to injury, illness, or allergic reaction. If your immune system isn’t strong enough to cope with harmful microorganisms like viruses and bacteria, your uvula can get infected, resulting in inflammation. Depending on the underlying cause, it could cause irritation, itching, and burning sensation.

Common symptoms of uvulitis include difficulty in swallowing and the feeling of something stuck in the uvula. In some cases of excessive swelling, patients experience a change in voice and breathing difficulty during sleep, thus causing snoring. Some other symptoms of uvula swelling are:

  • Uvula infection could cause a sore throat and swollen tonsils
  • In some cases, patients may experience difficulty in breathing
  • Uvula infection could trigger excessive saliva secretion
  • Uvula swelling could cause choking
  • Difficulty in swallowing and bringing swallowed food up again to the mouth
  • Oral and other infection could cause fever and pain

What Causes a Swollen Uvula?

If your uvula gets abnormally large, then you may experience difficulty in swallowing food, speaking, and breathing, along with redness, irritation, and pain. Symptoms of swollen uvula subside in a few days with medication, but if it persists for long, you should seek medical intervention to treat it before it is too late. Here are some of the possible causes of uvula swelling:

Infections: The presence of billions of microorganisms makes oral space very prone to infection. The cause of infection could be as common as the flu or something more complicated, but it could cause inflammation and swelling of your uvula. Depending on the cause, you may experience additional symptoms like fever, cough, fatigue, etc. Your doctor might recommend antibiotics for bacterial infections, but if it is viral, you have to wait for the infection to clear. Oral care experts recommend drinking lots of water, and plenty of rest, and some preventive measures for painless recovery.

Allergies: If you are allergic to any natural or artificial substances, skin puffing is a common immunological response. If your uvula swells due to an allergic reaction, you should immediately consult your doctor to control the reaction. It is better to avoid allergic substances as told by an allergist to be safe.

Injury: Some procedures like intubation, endoscopy, or tonsil removal could injure the uvula, leading to swelling. In some cases, acid reflux could also cause swelling to the uvula. If the infection persists for long, your doctor might prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain medications to boost recovery.

Medication: Allergic reaction to some medications could cause swelling of the uvula. If you notice any uvula abnormality with medication you should inform your doctor and ask for replacement medication.

Snoring: In some cases of obstructive sleep apnea, loud snoring could cause your uvula to swell. This happens due to irritation caused by excessive vibration of the uvula during sleep. People with a habit of heavy snoring experience sore throat, sleeping disorder, fatigue, and high blood pressure. Medical professionals recommend weight loss treatment, alcohol control, nasal decongestant, and mouth guard to control snoring.

Genetics: If you have inherited hereditary angioedema (HAE)—a rare genetic disorder in which fluid collects around blood vessels resulting in tissue swelling, could affect your uvula. You may experience swelling in other parts of the body as well. Your doctor might recommend suitable medications to prevent attacks.

Treatments for Uvula Swelling

In most cases, uvula swelling subsides within a week without OTC anti-inflammatory and pain management medications. If swelling persists or recurs frequently or if swelling is due to an allergic reaction, you should consult your doctor without delay. Depending on your case, your doctor will run some diagnostic tests and prescribe medications accordingly to control inflammation and pain.

If you are noticing any of the symptoms of uvula-related abnormality, it is better to get in touch with your doctor before the condition worsens. An experienced doctor can identify uvulitis abnormality by visual examination and start the treatment to control inflammation and pain. He may recommend tests like MRI, blood tests, culture, allergic tests, and X-rays to know about exact causing factors. The treatment will vary depending on whether the swelling is due to injury, bacterial, viral, or allergic in nature.

Your doctor will recommend some prevention like smoking and drinking control, avoiding acidic food and beverages to boost recovery.

Who Might Need Uvula Removal?

If a snoring habit is affecting your sleep or your relationship with your partner your doctor might recommend uvula removal—called a uvulectomy. It is recommended when the uvula flaps over airways and blocks airflow into the lungs—causing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—to prevent snoring. Depending on your case, the removal could be partial or complete to ensure smooth sleep and breathing.

The surgical procedure involves the removal of excess tissue from the soft palate and pharynx, along with clearing of the blockage in OSA. In some cases, your oral surgeon might recommend the removal of tonsils, adenoids, along the uvula.

Just like any surgical procedure, for uvulectomy, your doctor will give a topical and injected local anesthetic to ease the pain. The excess tissue removal is done using electric current or radiofrequency energy. It takes less than 30 minutes to remove the uvula, but you might have to wait for a few hours before you regain full consciousness. If the procedure is complex, it might take more time and you might have to stay overnight in the hospital.

What happens after the procedure?

After the surgical procedure, once the effect of anesthesia subsides you may feel some pain and discomfort for a few days. Medications prescribed by your doctor will ease pain, but you can drink cool liquids to soothe your throat. Avoid eating anything hard, hot, and spicy, until the wound heals.

Any pressure like coughing or clearing the throat could affect the surgical area, leading to bleeding. So, avoid clearing cough and coughing for a few days to heal faster. Some post-surgery difficulties could be:

  • Swallowing difficulty for a week or so
  • Temporary change in taste
  • Throat might dry
  • Lumpiness in throat

The chance of infection is relatively high in oral space, so if you experience high fever, breathlessness, or bleeding you should call your doctor immediately.

How Long Does it Take To Recover After Surgery?

Your oral space will be fully functional within 1-2 days, but total healing might take 3-4 weeks after the uvula removal surgery. You can boost the recovery by following standard oral hygiene to prevent infection. Don’t miss your medication and avoid putting pressure on the affected area.

What Are Home Remedies for Uvula Swelling?

Mild swelling of the uvula caused by injury or bacterial infections could be treated easily with home remedies. Some of the home remedies can help you ease the pain and discomfort, but if the swelling is due to allergy and persists for long, you should consult your doctor without delay. Here are some of the home remedies for uvulitis:

  • Swelling could be due to dehydration, so drink plenty of fluids could help
  • Gargling with lukewarm salt water solution helps in controlling bacteria and soothe throat infection
  • In some cases, throat spray or eucalyptus cough drops can help ease the pain or throat
  • Honey is known for its effectiveness in treating sore throat
  • You can try chewing ice chips to control uvula swelling
  • Basal leaf with tea is highly effective in treating throat irritation

If pain is acute, you can try some over-the-counter pain-relief medications along with home remedies.

Bottom Line

The uvula is very important for swallowing and voice control. So, if you are experiencing abnormal swelling of the uvula, you should start home remedies to control swelling and irritation. However, if swelling fails to subside in a few days you should consult your doctor for a thorough diagnosis as the swelling could be due to an underlying medical condition. Depending on the diagnosis, your dentist will recommend removal of some tissues of the uvula and soft palate, and in some cases full removal if it is affecting your normal life.

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Published by Dr. Daniel Bronsky

Dr. Daniel is an orthodontist at Invis London.

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