What is Uvula?
The term uvula is derived from the Latin word “uva”, which means “grape”. Uvula is grape-shaped, elongated portion of skin that hangs in the upper part of the throat, at the back of the tongue. The uvula is involved in the articulation of sounds in our speech. It also plays a role in eating and swallowing since it serves as a lid that closes nasopharynx to prevent food from entering into the air passage. Furthermore, the uvula prevents bacteria and other pathogens from entering the body through the digestive tract. An elongated uvula can contribute to snoring and lead to sleep apnea. Surgical removal of the uvula can also cause sleep apnea due to formation of scar tissue that decreases air passage in the velopharnyx. In 40 to 60% of cases surgical removal of uvula, known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) successfully reduces sleep apnea. In rest of the cases, sleep apnea can even worsen with the operation.
Swollen uvula is not a serious health problem but it may indicate certain medical conditions. It usually resolves quickly and without any treatment. However, you may consult Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who can evaluate the problem and suggest further steps. When uvula swells, its size increases 3 to 5 times, which causes feeling of gagging or chocking.
Causes of Swollen Uvula
The uvula can become swollen due to a variety of causes. Cigarette smoking as well as inhalation of irritants can lead to swelling in the uvula. Snoring can also be the cause. Dehydration as well as dry condition can be responsible for swollen uvula. Additionally, it can be due to medical conditions such as viral and bacterial infections, acid reflux and allergies. The leading cause of swollen uvula is dry throat. It usually develops when a person regularly sleeps with open mouth and breathes through the mouth. Uvula often gets swollen due to snoring. Snoring results out of obstructed air movement during breathing while sleeping. It takes place when the back of the throat and tongue meets with the soft palate and the uvula. Swollen uvula can be a symptom of an infection, gastroesophageal reflux disease or an inflammation of the tonsils (tonsillitis). Ingestion of acidic, spicy and hot substances can also result in swollen uvula. Mouth sores can affect the uvula and lead to swollen uvula. Allergic reaction to certain medications and allergens can cause uvula to swell as well. Other causes of swollen uvula include: prolonged vomiting, persistent coughing and physical trauma to the mouth and throat.