The uvula is the soft, fleshy part that hangs down at the back of the throat. A swollen or inflamed uvula is called uvulitis, and it can result from an infection, an allergy, an injury, and exposure to smoke or toxins.

The uvula, also known as the palatine uvula, is the flap of soft tissue that hangs down at the back of the throat, which is visible when a person opens their mouth wide. It consists of mucous membranes, connective and muscle tissue, and glands that excrete saliva. It is very flexible, which ensures that it can fulfill its functions, such as helping with swallowing, speaking, and triggering the gag reflex.

Uvulitis typically occurs due to infection and can be bacterial, such as strep throat, or viral. However, uvular inflammation can also be due to other reasons, such as allergies, injury, certain chemicals, or smoking. A swollen uvula can cause discomfort, resulting in sensations such as gagging or choking that make it difficult to breathe, talk, or eat.

This article discusses uvulitis, including what it looks like, its symptoms, and treatment options.

Though rare, the uvula and the surrounding areas can become swollen. Redness, soreness, and inflammation of the uvula is called uvulitis. Inflammation is the body’s automatic response to an injury, allergic reaction, or illness. Inflammation may result in redness, irritation, itching, swelling, or burning.

If the immune system cannot remove a harmful organism such as 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 can include:

  • problems breathing
  • sore throat
  • swollen tonsils
  • excessive saliva
  • gagging and coughing
  • nasal regurgitation
  • fever
  • pain
  • trouble or painful swallowing

The causes of uvulitis include bacterial and viral infections, such as strep throat, mononucleosis, or respiratory tract infections. The common cold is an easy way to develop an infection because a person’s nasal passages are typically blocked, leading them to breathe through their mouths. Evidence also suggests that uvulitis can occur with COVID-19.

Other causes of uvulitis may 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 requires emergency medical treatment.
  • 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, split, shrunken, or even missing.
  • Injury: Trauma to the back of the throat can irritate the uvula and cause swelling. For example, this can include injury from an endoscope or acid reflux.
  • Smoking: Inhaling smoke can irritate the sensitive tissues in the throat, including the uvula.
  • Other chemicals: Similar to smoke, other pollutants such as radon, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds can also irritate the throat and result in uvular swelling.

A doctor will typically perform a physical exam to diagnose uvulitis, observing the throat and looking for signs such as redness and an enlarged uvula.

To diagnose the cause of uvular swelling, a doctor may need to perform further tests. This may include a throat swab, blood test, or allergy test.

A person can often treat mild cases of uvulitis at home. There are several types of remedies a doctor may advise. These include:

  • drinking plenty of fluids to maintain hydration as the uvula can sometimes swell due to dry mouth or dehydration
  • gargling with warm water and plain table salt, which can help soothe a sore throat
  • trying throat lozenges such as eucalyptus cough drops or throat spray to help numb the pain
  • making hot tea with honey, or honey and hot water, which can help to soothe a sore throat
  • chewing on ice chips, which may help reduce swelling
  • drinking tea made with basil leaves, which can help reduce throat irritation
  • getting plenty of rest
  • avoiding irritants, such as smoking

Home remedies coupled with over-the-counter pain relief medications can usually help clear up a swollen uvula in a couple of days.

If a person’s symptoms do not seem to be improving or appear to be worsening, it is advisable to consult a doctor. In the event of an allergic reaction, people should always seek emergency medical treatment. Anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms should also seek medical assistance:

  • severe difficulty swallowing
  • dehydration
  • difficulty breathing
  • blood, pus, or another drainage from the uvula
  • unmanageable pain
  • fever and stomach pain
  • voice becoming muffled

Depending on the cause of the uvular swelling, a doctor may prescribe:

Snoring is relatively common, with evidence suggesting that around 40% of adult males and 24% of adult females snore regularly. Snoring occurs when there is an obstruction in a person’s airway. If the air coming in and out of the airway meets resistance, vibration can occur, resulting in snoring.

Snoring can become more of an issue with an enlarged uvula. Some research suggests that larger uvulas may play a role in more severe snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Additionally, excessive snoring may cause more trauma from the uvula vibrating against other structures.