The uvula is made up of mucous membranes, connective and muscle tissue, as well as canals that excrete saliva. It is very flexible, which ensures that it can fulfill its functions.
Though rare, the uvula and the surrounding areas can become swollen. Redness, soreness, and inflammation of the uvula is called uvulitis.
The uvula hangs at the back of the mouth and may become swollen due to bacteria and viral infections.
Inflammation is the body's automatic response to an injury, allergic reaction, or illness. Inflammation may also include redness, irritation, itching, swelling, or burning.
If the immune system is not able to remove a harmful organism like a virus or bacterium, the uvula can become infected.
With uvulitis, a person may feel as if something is stuck in the back of their throat as well as experience difficulty swallowing. In some cases, the sound of the voice may also be affected.
Other symptoms include:
- problems breathing
- sore throat
- swollen tonsils
- excessive saliva
- nasal regurgitation
- trouble or painful swallowing
Bacterial and viral infections such as strep throat, mononucleosis, or respiratory tract infections can cause uvulitis. The common cold is an easy way to pick up an infection because people's nasal passages are typically blocked up. This leads them to breathe through their mouths.
Infectious uvulitis typically occurs with other conditions, such as an infection of the mouth or throat. Any of these conditions can lead to inflammation in the throat, which may then lead to uvulitis.
Other causes of uvulitis include:
- Allergies: Allergic reactions can trigger a buildup of fluid in the throat or mouth resulting in swelling. It can be the result of an allergic reaction to food or even an insect sting. Anaphylactic reaction or shock is very dangerous and requires emergency medical treatment immediately.
- Genetics: A cleft lip or cleft palate is a congenital trait that affects the roof of the mouth. This can cause the uvula to be enlarged, off place, shrunken, or even missing.
An elongated uvula is a hereditary trait. Though it may not swell, it can cause similar symptoms due to the size. Hereditary angioedema is a rare genetic condition that causes swelling throughout the body, and it can affect the uvula.
A swollen uvula can also be caused by:
Too much smoking and alcohol can also lead to mouth irritation, which can result in uvulitis. Breathing in chemicals can also cause swelling.
Some people may experience some swelling in their uvula after surgery. General anesthesia can cause irritation and a swollen uvula. Trauma from tubes inserted into the throat can also lead to uvulitis.
Treatment and home remedies
Mild cases of uvulitis can often be treated at home. There are a few home remedies that can be used to treat the problem. People with a swollen uvula are advised to do the following:
Drinking plenty of water may help uvulitis as the swelling could be caused by dehydration or dry mouth.
- Drink plenty of fluids. The uvula is sometimes swollen due to dry mouth or dehydration, so water is the best medicine.
- Gargling with warm water and plain table salt can help to soothe a sore throat.
- Throat lozenges such as eucalyptus cough drops or throat spray can help to numb the pain.
- Hot tea and honey, or just honey and hot water, can help to soothe a sore throat.
- Chewing on ice chips may be helpful in reducing swelling.
- Tea made with basil leaves can help reduce throat irritation.
- Get plenty of rest.
Home remedies coupled with over-the-counter pain-relief medications can usually clear up a swollen uvula in a couple of days.
If the symptoms do not seem to be getting better or appear to be getting worse, it is important for people to see a doctor right away. In the event of an allergic reaction, people should always seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
To help pinpoint the exact cause, imaging tests may be done. If the doctor feels that the swollen uvula may be due to an infection of some type, throat swabs or blood samples may be taken.
Doctors can often spot uvulitis after an examination, but a blood test, culture or X-rays may be ordered to confirm a diagnosis. In some cases, the exact cause of uvulitis may not be identified.
Anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms should see a doctor immediately:
- severe difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing
- blood, pus, or other drainage from the uvula
- unmanageable pain
- fever and stomach pain
- voice becomes muffled
If the skin or lips become blue, purple, or gray, or if the person becomes unresponsive, faints, or has a seizure, someone should call 911 immediately.
Doctors will typically prescribe an antibiotic if it is a bacterial infection. Steroids can also help to reduce the swelling, pain, and redness.
In the case of an allergic reaction, an antihistamine may be used to reduce itching and help with breathing. People with uvulitis usually make a full recovery quickly with a combination of home remedies and medication. While recovering from uvulitis, it is important for people to stay away from any allergens as well as stopping smoking and drinking.
Most cases of uvulitis clear up quickly and leave no lasting effects.
The uvula and snoring
Around 45 percent of adults snore at least occasionally, with 25 percent snoring constantly. Snoring occurs when a person's airways at the back of the mouth and nose are obstructed. This area is where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and the uvula.
When the structures strike each other and vibrate during breathing, the result is snoring. If the uvula is enlarged, snoring can become an even bigger problem. The uvula is believed to play a role in snoring or sleep apnea because in some people with these conditions, the uvula is swollen.