Causes and Treatment for a Swollen Uvula (With Pictures)
A swollen uvula (the technical term is uvulitis) is a rare condition that is most often associated with strep throat, though it can also be caused by other factors.
An inflamed uvula can swell to many times its normal size and can affect both children and adults, regardless of gender, race, or any other factor. The swelling is usually not a serious or life-threatening condition, but it can be annoying and uncomfortable.
Uvulitis is usually caused by lifestyle factors, bacterial or viral infection, or physical trauma. Normally, the issue resolves itself within a day or so.
Often, you can treat this condition at home by:
- Drinking plenty of fluids (at least eight 8-oz glasses of water per day)
- Using throat lozenges or throat spray to numb the pain
- Gargling with salt water (add 1 tsp salt to 1 quart warm water and gargle several times daily)
- Chewing or sucking on ice chips to help relieve swelling
- Getting plenty of rest
See a doctor immediately if:
- You cannot breathe
- You cannot move your neck or open your mouth
- You have a fever and abdominal pain
- Your symptoms are worsening even after treatment
What Is a Uvula?
The uvula is sometimes mistaken for a tonsil, but tonsils are actually something else entirely. The palatine tonsils are lymphatic tissue masses that are located on either side of the back of the throat.
A uvula, on the other hand, is the dangling flesh resembling a punching bag at the back of the throat. Muscle fibers, soft connective tissues, and a few recamose glands make up the fleshy lobe, which plays multiple roles.
What Does the Uvula Do?
The uvula works with the back of the throat and the palate to articulate sounds.
It is theorized that the uvula's thin saliva secretions help keep the throat lubricated.
During swallowing, the soft palate and the uvula work together to prevent food, water, and other foreign objects from entering the nasal cavity and potentially obstructing the breathing process.
Medical Removal of the Uvula
The fact that the uvula protects and helps with sound articulation generally makes it inadvisable to remove it—unless it is severely inflamed or significantly damaged (as in the case of malignancy).
Removing the uvula can affect the quality of the patient's speech and sound production. In addition, saliva production may be affected; dry throat is a common complication.
Swollen Uvula PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Symptoms of Uvulitis
A gagging or choking sensation due to the enlargement of the uvula that may have touched the tongue. This can sometimes result in vomiting.
Difficulty swallowing foods and liquids, sometimes accompanied with pain.
Pain in the throat, similar to that of a sore throat.
A tickling, itching sensation in the throat that results in coughing.
Hoarseness or a change in the sound of one's voice.
Inflammation and redness of the throat.
Spots on your throat.
Causes of Uvulitis
This condition usually resolves itself within a few days, depending on its underlying cause. The most common causes include:
Infections, including strep throat and tonsillitis, are the most common causes among children.
Allergic reactions can cause swelling. If the throat is also swelling, it may even be a sign of an anaphylactic reaction, which is potentially life-threatening and requires immediate emergency attention. While various allergies can cause the swelling, food allergies are the most common.
Trauma to the uvula may seem unusual, but it can happen. One example of how such trauma can occur is during medical procedures meant to facilitate breathing—for instance, during intubation.
Acid Reflux Disorder can influence the edema of the uvula. The stomach acid being thrown back into the esophagus as a result of the reflux can reach the uvula, causing irritation and swelling.
Hereditary Angioneurotic Edema has also been implicated in the onset of a swollen uvula. It is a rare genetic disorder characterized by rapid swelling of the different parts of the body, which may also trigger the swelling in the uvula.
Other causes of a swollen uvula include the following:
- Oral dehydration
- Excessive smoking
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Common colds
- Exposure to extremes in weather condition and environment
- Incidence of aphthous ulcers or canker sores
Dr. Oller Explains Uvulitis
Treatment of Uvulitis
Mild swelling of the uvula usually resolves on its own within a few days, without the need for treatment.
Treatment for severe and chronic swelling depends on the underlying condition. Antibiotics may be required when the condition is caused by an infection. The selection of the specific antibiotic, as well as the dosage, will depend on the infectious agent that is causing the swelling.
Steroid treatment may be prescribed to reduce the inflammation, pain, and redness caused by an allergic reaction. Itchiness may be relieved with antihistamine medications.
Simple remedies may also manage mild swelling of the uvula without the need for medication. Such remedies include:
- Gargling of lukewarm saline water will help reduce swelling. Add 1 tsp of salt to 1 quart of lukewarm water, and gargle several times a day.
- Chewing ice chips can help relieve swelling and irritation.
- Increasing fluid intake, or drinking 10-12 glasses of water a day, will hydrate and help reduce swelling.
When to Seek Medical Attention or Return to the Doctor
See your physician if you:
- Have worsening symptoms despite treatment
- Develop new symptoms
- Have trouble opening your mouth or turning your head
- If your voice becomes muffled (what's called a hot potato voice)
- If you cannot breathe
Important note: This information does not replace that of your physician. Follow all of their instructions, including return visits as recommended.
- Back, G.W., Nadig, S., Uppal, S., Coatesworth, A.P. "Why do we have a uvula? Literature review and a new theory." Clinical Otolaryngology. Wiley Online Library. November 4, 2004.
- Garikiparithi, Mohan. "Swollen uvula causes and symptoms, treating uvulitis with natural home remedies." Belmarra Health. April 19, 2016.
- Hayes, Kristin, RN (reviewed by a board-certified physician). "What Causes a Swollen Uvula? 5 Reasons You May Experience a Swollen Uvula." Verywell. Updated January 9, 2017.
- Pietrangelo, Ann (medically reviewed by Graham Rogers, MD). "What Causes a Swollen Uvula?" Healthline. June 13, 2016.