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Swollen Uvula: Causes and Treatments

The uvula is the small flap of tissue that hangs from the soft palate at the back of your mouth.

If you’ve ever looked at your throat in a mirror, you’ve likely seen it. Like any tissue in the body, the uvula can become swollen.

In most cases, this is due to an infection, but it can also be due to other factors. In this article, we’ll talk about all the possible causes of a swollen uvula, as well as treatment options.

Functions of the Uvula

uvula grey's anatomy

Let’s talk about the basic functions of the uvula. It plays a role in speech and saliva production. Despite its simplistic look, it’s a complex structure.

Composed of muscular and glandular tissue, it can produce a lot of saliva within a short period.

Unfortunately, due to its location in the mouth, its susceptible to infection. Everything that you breathe in must pass around the uvula.

So, whenever you breathe in microbes, which happens 24 hours a day, you risk getting an infection in the uvula. This can lead to a swollen uvula and other unpleasant symptoms.

Bottom Line: The two basic functions of the uvula are to produce saliva and aid in speech. Due to its position in the mouth, it’s susceptible to microbial infections.

Symptoms That May Accompany a Swollen Uvula

swollen uvula

Along with an enlarged uvula, here are some other symptoms you may experience:

  • Dry Mouth
  • Sore Throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Gagging
  • Inflamed Tonsils
  • Uncontrollable Drooling
  • Fever
  • Chronic Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

As you can see, the list of symptoms is extensive. These are all signs that your body is fighting an infection.

For example, by increasing its temperature (as in a fever), your body can kill off viruses and bacteria.

While annoying, the symptoms of a swollen uvula usually don’t lead to life-threatening complications.

Bottom Line: Symptoms that may accompany your inflamed uvula include fever, gagging, hoarseness, sore throat, dry mouth, and inflamed tonsils.

When Should You See a Doctor?

The following symptoms are considered more serious than the ones above. If you experience these along with a swollen uvula, then go to a hospital immediately. They are:

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Blood or Pus in Mouth
  • Choking Feeling

These are signs that something more serious is happening in your body. It could mean that your immune system has been compromised (as in people with HIV), that you have cancer, etc.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure until you see a doctor.

It could be any number of things, but the point is, it requires immediate treatment. The longer you wait, the worse it may get, so don’t hesitate.

Bottom Line: If you’re having difficulty breathing, or if you’re constantly choking, then get to a hospital immediately as it could be more serious than a simple infection.

What Causes a Swollen Uvula?

uvula infection

There are many factors that can lead to an enlarged uvula. They include:

  • Infection: An infection is by far the most common reason why your uvula will swell up. It could be that you’ve gotten a bacterial infection, in which antibiotics would be required to kill it. You could even have a viral infection, which would require anti-viral medication. The only way to know for sure will be to get diagnosed by your doctor.
  • Allergic Reaction: An allergic reaction happens whenever your body overacts to a molecule that’s not considered dangerous. For example, people with nut allergies will develop a severe allergic reaction if they eat cashews or walnuts (despite these foods being perfectly safe to eat for most of the population).
  • Trauma: Have you eaten anything hot or sharp in the last few hours? If so, this could be the cause of your swollen uvula. Trauma could also include a recent medical procedure (such as the placement of a breathing tube down your throat). If caused by trauma, it should heal within a week or so. If it doesn’t, see a doctor.
  • Dehydration: Believe it or not, dehydration can make your uvula swollen. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this happens, but it has been observed. Drinking alcohol can dehydrate you very quickly, so it’s best to put down the beers until your uvula returns to normal size. Try to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day for maximum hydration.

In rare cases, a person might have a genetic abnormality that makes them susceptible to an enlarged uvula.

Genetic abnormalities are usually inherited by one or both parents. People with this condition generally opt to have their uvula surgically removed.

Bottom Line: Common causes of an enlarged uvula include dehydration, trauma, allergic reactions, and infections (by far the most common cause).

Hereditary Angioneurotic Edema – A Rare But Possible Cause

Another rare but possible cause is hereditary angioneurotic edema. This disorder causes people to develop swelling in certain areas of their body, including the uvula.

Most people with this disorder will have their first “attack” as a child. If you’ve never had problems with a swollen uvula as a child, then it’s highly unlikely that you’ve got hereditary angioneurotic edema.

If it makes you feel better, talk to a doctor, but just know that the odds are on your side.

Bottom Line: Unless you’ve been affected by this symptom as a child, it’s very likely that you have hereditary angioneurotic edema. If you’re worried, see a doctor.

Treatments

In this section, we’re going to talk about various medical treatments for a swollen uvula. They include:

  • Antibiotics: If it’s caused by a bacterial infection, then antibiotics will be required to kill the infection. Healing may begin as little as 2-3 days after.
  • Steroids: If your symptom is caused by an allergic reaction, then your doctor may give you steroids (no, not the kind for building muscle!).
  • Antihistamines: Histamine is a molecule that plays a big role in the inflammation process. Thus, antihistamines lessen the effects of histamine.
  • Epinephrine Injection: If you’re suffering from a severe allergic reaction, then an epinephrine shot will be required, followed by emergency medical treatment.
  • IV Hydration: If your swollen uvula is due to severe hydration, then the hospital might hydrate you via an IV until you get better.

Finally, there’s anti-inflammatory medications. These should help reduce the severity of your symptoms.

Your doctor may prescribe any number of these treatments based on what other symptoms you’re presenting.

Bottom Line: The best treatment option for your symptom will depend on the cause. Antibiotics are used to stop bacterial infections while steroids are used for allergic reactions.

Home Remedies For a Swollen Uvula

woman gargling salt water

Here are some remedies that you can try from home:

  • No More Alcohol: If you currently drink beer, wine, or liquor daily, then stop. Alcohol leads to dehydration which will make your symptom worse.
  • Drink Orange Juice: Orange juice is filled with vitamin C, a vitamin that’s been shown to boost the immune system. You can also eat oranges for the same affect.
  • Salt Water Gargles: Salt water can kill bacteria in the mouth, which is why doctors recommend this as a home remedy. Do it 2-3 times throughout the day for maximum results.

In most cases, a swollen uvula will go away on its own. It rarely leads to complications.

Be on the lookout for serious symptoms like chronic choking or the inability to get sufficient oxygen.

If you experience these, then get to a hospital since it’s probably more than just a simple infection.

Bottom Line: Some effective home remedies that you can try include salt water gargles, drinking more orange juice, and eliminating all alcohol.

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