The uvula is seen as one of the reasons why people snore. This reason is attributed to its position in the mouth. When you sleep, the uvula dangles in the airway, obstructing your upper throat. The remaining space is reduced and air passing through causes vibrations.
The vibrations of snoring can sometimes cause your uvula to swell. If you snore heavily, the uvula vibrates more causing the throat to take a thorough beating. This causes the uvula to irritate and enlarge over time. The result is the development of a swollen uvula or a serious condition known as uvulitis.
However, neck surgery done to solve snoring is often ineffective because the uvula is not the primary cause of snoring.
Understanding The Uvula
The uvula is a little hanging structure that is part of the soft palate of our mouths. It is made up of mucous membranes, canals that excrete saliva, connective, and muscle tissues. It hangs in the back of the throat and is somewhat of a mystery in the fields of science and medicine since humans appear to be the only species that have them (except for a few baboons who have small ones).
However, it has been identified as an important part of our anatomy. It helps prevent food from entering our nasal passages when we swallow. The uvula produces large amounts of thin saliva to help lubricate the throat and make swallowing easier. It also assists in our speech and protects us from swallowing germs and bacteria.
What Is Uvulitis?
Your body responds to irritation with swelling and tenderness. Think of how people swell or experience redness when they are stung by bees. Similarly, your uvula can become swollen and sore resulting in inflammation called uvulitis. This inflammation can be accompanied by itching and a burning sensation.
According to experts, enlarged/inflamed uvulas are common among individuals who snore or suffer from sleep apnea.
Symptoms of uvulitis can include:
- Sore throat
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Voice changes
- Difficulty breathing and talking
- Swollen tonsils
Why is my Uvula Swollen?
There are a variety of reasons your uvula might be swollen. While some can be treated with home remedies, others require urgent medical attention. The most common causes of a swollen uvula include:
Throat infections may cause surrounding tissues to swell and become inflamed. Among the tissues that might be inflamed include the uvula, which could swell as a result. Viral and bacterial infections are among the most common causes of a swollen uvula and include:
Strep throat or streptococcal pharyngitis is one of the most common bacterial infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. This contagious infection manifests in form of a sore throat and fever. Because of its contagious nature, strep throat is more common in children between the ages of 5 to 15.
While the most effective diagnosis is a throat culture, clinicians also look for symptoms including a swollen uvula, throat swelling, or swollen tonsils. When your throat or tonsils are swollen, they push against the uvula and lead to irritation and swelling. Such swelling may include pus, making it painful to swallow. As such, drooling is common among people with uvulitis.
Subsequent treatment for strep throat is done using antibiotics. If your symptoms don't improve, your doctor may need to change your medication or prescribe steroids to help you find effective relief.
Mononucleosis (mono) is a viral infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or Cytomegalovirus (CMV). This infection is spread through bodily fluids, especially saliva exchanged during close contact or sharing of utensils.
Such viral infections are highly contagious and an infected person remains contagious for up to six months. Mono symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, enlarged tonsils, and fatigue. These start manifesting after four to eight weeks of exposure and may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
Effective diagnosis for mononucleosis is done through a heterophile antibody test and a complete blood count (CBC). If you test positive for lymphocytosis and have other symptoms, a mono diagnosis is confirmed. Treatment is achieved through rest and proper management of other physical symptoms.
Influenza one of the viral infections that affect the respiratory system. It is common in children under the age of five and adults over 65 years. People with weakened immune systems and those with chronic conditions like asthma, heart or liver disease are also at a high risk of contracting influenza.
While symptoms manifest like those of a common cold, complications related to influenza can have deadly consequences on those affected. You should see a healthcare professional if you have breathing problems, a fever, persistent dry cough, chest pain, severe muscle pain or weakness, a sore throat, and nasal congestion.
With nasal congestion, the velocity and turbulence of air increase as it passes through the throat. The irritation results in a swollen uvula which is red, sore, and inflamed. Extreme cases of flu in children may include symptoms like seizures, blue lips, and dehydration due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea.
To avoid such dire consequences, ensure you get your annual flu shot to beef up your defense against it.
Epiglottitis is an infection of the epiglottis. The epiglottis is a small tissue attached to the base of your tongue. It is located at the back of the throat to help close the windpipe when you swallow. This prevents choking that may be caused when food enters your airway. When the epiglottis is infected or swollen, clinicians diagnose it as epiglottitis.
Epiglottitis is caused by a throat injury or bacterial infection that causes trouble breathing, pain when swallowing, and drooling. While symptoms may take a few days to manifest in adults, they show and progress more rapidly in children. They include a sore throat, difficulty in breathing or swallowing, and a fever of more than 100 degrees. See our article on children that snore.
Common causes of epiglottitis include the Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria, smoking, injury to the throat caused by chemicals and hot substances, fungal and viral infections. This medical condition is diagnosed through a series of tests including a physical exam, a blood test to determine the cause of infection, and an X-ray to rule out foreign objects in your airway.
Epiglottitis is a life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical treatment. Treatment includes ensuring your airway stays open. in severe cases, this includes intubation or a tracheotomy to help bypass your swollen epiglottis. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to fight off the infection.
Croup is caused by a viral infection that affects the larynx and trachea. Viral croup is caused by the parainfluenza virus and is common in fall and early winter. It is contagious with most babies under five being at risk of contracting the infection.
On the other hand, spasmodic croup can be a result of an allergic reaction that results in obstruction of the airway or reflux as stomach contents move back up to the esophagus. Symptoms of croup include wheezing, a slight fever, and a "barky" cough that irritates the soft palate, resulting in a swollen uvula. Your baby may also have trouble breathing at night.
Diagnosis of croup includes a throat exam, listening to your child's breathing, test for oxygen level in their blood, and an X-ray. Croup symptoms can be treated using over-the-counter medications to relieve fever and home remedies like breathing cool mist or steam. This helps relieve the dry throat caused by coughing.
If symptoms persist, your doctor may prescribe a breathing treatment and steroids to help reduce swelling of the uvula.
Swollen skin or tissue is a common symptom of allergies. Allergic reactions like anaphylaxis can be caused by ingesting, breathing, or coming into contact with allergens. Such an allergic reaction causes swelling in the mouth and throat. Because the uvula hangs at the back of your mouth and directly in your airway, a swollen uvula should be treated as a medical emergency.
Seasonal allergens like pollen, dust, grass, or pet dander can cause inflammation. In other cases, the reaction is caused by certain foods like milk, nuts, fish, and eggs. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and having difficulty swallowing and breathing.
If you notice such symptoms, it is important to see an allergist to help determine the exact cause of your allergy and avoid triggers. Medical treatment for an allergic reaction is through a shot of epinephrine administered in the emergency room or at home.
The cells that line your mouth and digestive tract thrive in moist conditions. If your mouth is chronically dry despite taking plenty of water, these cells become red, sore, and swollen. Dry mouth can be caused by nasal congestion, tobacco, alcohol, open-mouth snoring, recreational drug use, nerve damage, sialolithiasis (stones in salivary glands ), and medication.
Using a moistening mouth spray, avoiding alcohol, and drugs help relieve dry mouth. In case of nasal congestion, improve ventilation through steam inhalation, nasal sprays, and mentholated candy.
Physical injury causes a swollen uvula. Some of the reasons for such injury include ingesting hot food, GERD, medical procedures such as tonsillectomy (tonsil removal), intubation, or endoscopy. The acid reflux caused by severe GERD irritates the soft palate and uvula, resulting in uvulitis. Frequent vomiting also irritates your throat and causes a swollen uvula.
During an endoscopy, a tube with a camera is passed through your digestive tract. On the other hand, a breathing tube is pushed down your airway during intubation to help you breathe better. The equipment used during these medical procedures may irritate and result in a swollen uvula.
With such injuries, the swelling goes down with time. However, the doctor prescribes anti-inflammatory medication to aid in recovery. Sucking on ice chips also helps manage the swelling.
Some genetic disorders like hereditary angioedema, also known as Hereditary Angioneurotic Edema or HANE, can cause swelling of the uvula. HANE is a result of a rare genetic condition that attacks different parts of the body to cause swelling. If your swollen uvula is caused by this, it lacks the characteristic redness of irritation and appears to be white. People who experience such genetic mutations get their first HANE attack during childhood.
A swollen uvula can be caused by a reaction to how certain medications interact with your body. Such allergic reactions can be caused by medication like ACE inhibitors used to treat conditions that tighten your blood vessels, and ipratropium bromide used for breathing conditions.
Some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin may also cause swelling. This condition is known as NSAID-induced angioedema.
Cleft lip or palate are genetic conditions that affect the roof of the mouth. This may result in an absent or abnormally large uvula. An elongated uvula can also be passed down the family line. Having an elongated uvula can interfere with breathing and is an unusual cause of chronic cough. Although different from a swollen uvula, they share similar symptoms and can be surgically removed if symptoms persist.
How Does Snoring Affect The Uvula?
While the uvula can rotate around to serve its many purposes, each snore causes it to vibrate excessively which puts it under too much stress.
Additionally, open-mouth snorers take in air that exposes the uvula to dryness which further irritates it.
If you awaken with a sore throat, it could be that you have been snoring heavily through the night. Using a throat spray and ice chips can help with the pain caused by a sore throat. You can also check out our website to find out the best sleep positions to reduce snoring.
If you do not have an infection, you can try to alleviate the discomfort of an inflamed uvula at home in a few different ways.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty For Snoring
Some choose to undergo a surgical procedure called Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). When the UPPP is performed, part (or all) of the uvula is removed to make way for air to flow through the airways with ease, particularly if the patient is suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
Other parts that may be removed include parts of the roof of the mouth, excess throat tissue, or tonsils, and adenoids depending on the patient’s needs.
According to experts at Michigan University’s Health Department, the main reasons for this procedure are:
- Excess tissue in the nose, mouth, or throat that blocks the airway.
- Cannot or will not use a CPAP for sleep apnea
- No improvement after using CPAP.
- To avoid a tracheostomy (hole in the windpipe) to treat sleep apnea
Risk factors associated with this type of surgery include:
- Bleeding, infection, and swelling of the throat
- Severe sore throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Acid reflux (rare)
- Scar tissue that may narrow the airway (very rare)
- Problems swallowing.
- Speech problems. (The surgery may result in a nasal quality to the voice).
- Changes in how food tastes.
- Sleepiness and periods of not breathing (apnea) related to the medicines that are used to relieve pain and help you sleep.
In one study, while the majority (73 percent) of patients who underwent this procedure were relatively pleased with the results, 23 percent reported long-term problems such as:
- Mouth Dryness
- Difficulty swallow
- The feeling of a lump in the throat
- Speech disturbances
- Compulsive clearing of the throat
After several years, 27 percent of these patients said they would not have gotten the procedure done.
Remedies for a Swollen Uvula
The following are a few home remedies that may help you manage the symptoms of an inflamed uvula.
Drink plenty of warm water to moisten the mouth and throat. This will help with the dryness that comes from snoring. Adding honey to hot water helps soothe a sore uvula.
If it is too painful to swallow, gargling with warm salt water can help alleviate the discomfort.
Suck On A Lozenge
Throat lozenges can help lubricate the throat and bring relief to a swollen uvula. They are known to soothe inflammation and swelling in your uvula and even provide an instant cold remedy by slowing viral replication.
Lozenges like eucalyptus cough drops have a wonderful minty-like taste sensation that lingers in your mouth! Additionally, you can get a throat spray or use topical anesthetics like lidocaine to help numb the pain.
The heat from a cup of tea can be soothing. If it's too cold to take water consider drinking plenty of tea using calming teas like chamomile and green tea which have natural healing properties. Adding honey increases the health benefits of a cup of tea and relieves the symptoms of a swollen uvula.
Cold compresses help with swelling because it slows the blood flow to irritated sites. Likewise, chewing on ice chips can help relieve a swollen uvula. It also resolves a dry mouth and scratchy throat.
Unfortunately, for individuals with sleep apnea or who frequently snore, uvulitis is fairly common and the best way to treat it is to treat the underlying condition.
If snoring is causing you to experience uvulitis, you can use an oral appliance such as the VitalSleep anti snoring mouthpiece to prevent the snoring and, thus, reduce the risk of uvulitis. Ready to try the VitalSleep risk-free? Order yours today with a one-year warranty and 60-night money-back guarantee.
Also, if you want to compare, we have a good article here on VitalSleep Vs. SnoreRx.
Use a Humidifier
The quality of the air you take in when you breathe affects your upper throat, uvula, and soft palate. Taking in dry, hot air is especially common in winter when heaters are largely in use. A humidifier can be used to add moisture to the air and prevent irritation to different parts of the body including the uvula. This is one of the most effective home remedies for addressing dry mouth and uvulitis.
Uvulitis is a life-threatening condition that can prove difficult to handle without the right advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It can also cause health complications and requires immediate attention. The good news is that with professional medical advice, the condition can be remedied and you can go back to living a full, healthy life.
If you or a loved one start experiencing difficulty breathing, the sensations of a lump in your throat, difficulty swallowing, food or liquid backing up into your nose, fever, muffled voice, stomach, or ear pain, visit your doctor for professional medical advice on the best course of action for your swollen uvula.