What is a Uvula?
The uvula is a mass of muscles, fibers and connective tissues located at the extreme end of the soft palate. It is responsible for:
1) Producing large amounts of saliva to keep the throat lubricated
2) Produce the gag reflex that prevents choking
3) Acts as an accessory speech organ
Its essential function is performed when both the uvula and the soft palate close the nasopharynx by moving together. This feature restrains food from entering the nasal cavity and helps to swallow it by pushing it towards the throat.
What is a Swollen Uvula?
Swollen Uvula or uvulitis is characterized by irritation, redness and pain. Although it is often a temporary condition which heals on its own, it can cause trouble in swallowing food and drinks. Further, in rare cases, it may also cause difficulty in breathing.
Causes of Swollen Uvula
- Infection – Viral infections such as common cold, mononucleosis, croup or flu are often the main cause behind the condition. Strep throat caused by Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria bacterial infection that leads to uvulitis. Infected tonsils also cause severe inflammation of the tonsils that push against the uvula leading to subsequent swelling and irritation. Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and herpes weaken the immune system and leave individuals vulnerable to conditions such as uvulitis.
- Allergens – Allergens such as certain foods, animal dander, pollen, dust, etc. can cause allergic reactions when they are inhaled or ingested. These allergic reactions can cause swelling and irritation in various parts of the body that includes the uvula. Some medications are also capable of causing similar reactions.
- Toxins – Chemical substances have properties that may react and give rise to a swollen uvula. Substances such as tobacco and cannabis have such qualities too where Toxins are released in the body due to their consumption causing swollen uvula.
- Dehydration – Another primary reason behind the condition is caused due to the deficiency of fluids in the body. People who suffer from alcoholism or suffer from over consumption of alcohol may experience swelling of the uvula due to dehydration.
- Genetic reasons – Hereditary angioedema is a genetically transferred condition that causes swelling of the face, hands, feet, throat as well as the uvula. Other genetic conditions may result in an enlarged or an elongated uvula which is comparatively larger in size. In such a state, the only solution is undergoing surgery.
- Trauma – A surgical procedure or medical condition is capable of causing injury to the uvula. Gastro esophageal reflux disease causes acid reflux and frequent vomiting could irritate the uvula as well as the throat. Damage may be due to the uvula during surgery such as tonsillectomy and could also lead to uvulitis.
Symptoms of Swollen Uvula
- Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
- Sleep apnea
- Difficulty in speaking
- Nasal regurgitation
- Swelling of tonsils
- Sore throat
- Difficulty in breathing
Tests for of Swollen Uvula
- Blood test – Increased levels of white blood cells hint at severe infections. Thus, blood tests help to recognize the severity of the infection.
- X- Ray – If the patient complains of choking or increased problems in swallowing food, an x-ray is suggested to diagnose the problem.
- Culture – To recognize the precise micro organism causing the swelling, a throat or uvula culture is conducted.
- Epiglottits – It is a condition when the windpipe gets blocked and can lead to death in some cases due to difficulty in breathing. Children between the ages of 2 to 6 years are more prone to being affected by this condition. An inflamed buckle cavity may be misjudged as uvulitis when there could be a possibility of it being epiglottitis which is a much more severe condition.
Treatment for Swollen Uvula
- Medication – In case of any infections caused due to virus or bacteria antibiotics, some medicines are prescribed by the physician. Uvulitis may be accompanied by a fever which may also require medication.
- Steroids – People suffering from allergic reactions due to consumption or inhalation or allergens are usually given certain kinds of steroids to dim the reactions of the allergens on the body. Anti allergic pills may also be given for tackling the swelling and irritation.
- Surgery – In some cases, the uvula may become cancerous and threaten the health and well-being of the individual. In such cases, the uvula is surgically removed. Precautions must be taken to ensure that the infection does not spread to other parts of the body.
Home Remedies to treat Uvulitis
- Certain herbs such as raw turmeric and ginger should be chewed as they have anti inflammation qualities
- Herbal tea made of pepper, basil leaves, ginger and cloves helps to reduce the swelling
- Swollen uvula can also be treated by having a teaspoon of honey, twice a day
- Chewing ice chips could lead to lessen the pain and swelling caused
- Gargling with a mixture of salt and warm water is advised to reduce the infection
- Having lots of fluids to keep the body hydrated is recommended as swelling in the uvula often results due to dehydration
- Sufficient nutrients should be consumed in the form of fresh juices, soups and other fluids if swallowing becomes difficult
When to see a doctor?
An allergic reaction could subside on its own within a certain time. However, in case of severe pain, extreme difficulty in swallowing and/or breathing, uneasiness, grunting and choking or the discharge of blood and pus due to the rupture of the uvula, the person must visit a doctor immediately.