The uvula, which is also known as palatine uvula, is a small sized, elongated and fleshy part or organ, which hangs in the middle of the soft palate at its posterior edge. It is an extension of the small palate. Most of the uvula is made up of soft connective tissues, which are highly vascular and is surrounded by an epithelial layer. There are some conditions, which can lead to swelling of uvula. Medically, a swollen uvula is termed as uvulitis. The function of uvula is to stop the microorganisms from entering the digestive tract by trapping them and thus preventing the person from contracting any illness. Uvula should never be removed unless the doctor advises otherwise, which happens in case it is infected or is afflicted with serious medical conditions like cancer. There is rarely inflammation of the uvula and when it happens it can occur due to different reasons in both adults as well as children.
Causes of Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis
Swelling of the uvula or Uvulitis occurs when there is swelling in the tissues surrounding it. Swelling of the uvula alone is very rare. Given below are some conditions, which can cause swelling of the uvula.
- Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis Caused due to Allergic Reactions: Allergic Reaction can lead to rapid swelling of the mouth and throat (edema). In such cases, the swelling spreads and affects the uvula also and this is a definite sign of an anaphylactic reaction, which is a medical emergency. As soon as this occurs, patient needs an immediate shot of epinephrine.
- Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis Caused due to Infections: Infections such as viral or bacterial throat infections, can cause swelling in the localized tissues as well as uvula. Some of the examples of infections, which can cause a swollen uvula or Uvulitis include strep throat, epiglottitis and tonsillitis. Epiglottitis is a rare and serious condition, particularly in children, as it causes breathing difficulties.
- Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis Caused due to Injury or Trauma: An injury or trauma to the uvula also causes swelling of the uvula. However, this is not a common condition. Some of the cases where there can be injury to the uvula include burning of the uvula when consuming very hot food. Uvula can also be damaged during certain medical processes, such as intubation (insertion of breathing tubes).
- Hereditary Angioneurotic Edema or HANE is a rare condition and occurs as a result of a gene mutation. In this condition, there is swelling of different parts of the body including uvula. This disorder tends to occur during childhood.
- Certain Genetic Conditions can result in abnormalities of the uvula, such as there can be enlargement of the uvula. Cleft palate/ lip is one such condition which commonly affects the roof of the mouth resulting in abnormalities of the uvula, such as enlargement. There can also be an elongated uvula, which is hereditary. There is a difference between an elongated and a swollen uvula; however, they both have similar symptoms that of causing problems and may need to be surgically removed.
- Other causes, such as mouth dryness, can also lead to swollen uvula or uvulitis, which can occur as irritation to the interior side of mouth and affects the uvula. Drinking hot or irritating drinks can also result in a swollen uvula along with negatively affecting other regions of the mouth.
Signs & Symptoms of Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis
Inflammation of the uvula or uvulitis is not a disease but is swelling of the uvula which occurs due to other health problems. A swollen uvula is an indication that microorganisms, such as bacteria have entered the respiratory and digestive tract. A patient commonly experiences the below symptoms in case of a swollen uvula:
- Pain is experienced as it is a part of the inflammation process along with other reactions to inflammation. Pain is felt around the throat area and patient can also have headaches.
- Sore throat is a common symptom of swollen uvula or uvulitis. It commonly accompanies mouth dryness, which can be quite irritating. Tightness and irritation of the throat are some of the common symptoms experienced by patients.
- Breathing difficulties also occur due to swollen uvula or uvulitis. Patient also has difficulty in swallowing food especially if the swelling is also present on the tonsils.
- Voice hoarseness also occurs as a swollen uvula interferes with the quality of the voice. Hoarseness of the voice is also a common complaint of swollen uvula.
- There is also inflammation and swelling of the tonsils along with its surrounding region, which causes discomfort in a patient.
- Pus formation also occurs due to infection.
- High fever also occurs with infection of the uvula or tonsils.
Symptoms of Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis Which Need Immediate Medical Attention
- If the person suffering from swollen Uvula or Uvulitis has difficulty in breathing then it requires immediate medical attention.
- Acute pain in the uvula.
- Patient feels uneasiness due to breathing problems and insufficient oxygen.
- Difficulty in swallowing and pain with swallowing is one of the symptoms of swollen uvula or uvulitis which needs immediate medical attention.
- Patient has choking sensation along with grunting.
- Formation of pus or bleeding from the uvula.
Investigations for Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis
- Visual inspection is sufficient to diagnose swollen uvula or uvulitis.
- Blood test is done to find out if the cause of swollen uvula is an infection.
- Culture of the uvula and the throat is done to find out the exact microorganism, which is responsible for uvulitis.
- X-ray is done in severe cases when the patient is choking and is having difficulty in swallowing.
Medical Treatment for Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis
Three commonly used medications in case of a swollen uvula are:
- Antibiotics are prescribed if the swollen uvula or uvulitis occurs as a result of a bacterial infection. Patient should follow doctor’s instructions and complete the course of antibiotics to relieve the swelling of the uvula and to avoid frequent infections.
- Antihistamines are prescribed if the patient has itching from the swollen uvula or uvulitis.
- Steroids are prescribed if the swollen uvula occurs as an allergic reaction. In such cases steroids help in decreasing the swelling, pain and redness.
Surgical Removal of Uvula
Uvula is removed surgically in rare and extreme medical cases, such as cancer. Patient needs to take utmost care, post surgery, in order to prevent infection and recurrence of the condition. Patient should strictly adhere to the doctor’s instructions in such cases.
Home Remedies for Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis
- If the swollen uvula or uvulitis occurs as a result of dehydration, then patient should drink plenty of water. At least 10 – 12 glasses of water in a day are recommended. Fruit juices are also beneficial in such cases.
- In case of swollen uvula or uvulitis, add half a tablespoonful of turmeric in a glass of water. To this, add 2 to 3 ice cubes and drink this mixture after a few minutes.
- Honey has natural anti-bacterial properties and should be consumed on a daily basis to help fight infections, such as uvulitis.
- Gargling with lukewarm water to which a pinch of salt has been added is very effective in treating pain and inflammation of the uvula.
- Basil leaf tea also helps in treating swollen uvula or uvulitis.
- Chewing ice chips also helps in reducing the swelling of uvula or uvulitis as it numbs the area for some time.
- Chewing 2 – 3 garlic cloves daily, helps in relieving irritation and pain of the uvula.
Prevention of Swollen Uvula or Uvulitis
- One of the important things, which anyone can do to prevent swollen uvula is to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated.
- Another thing to avoid is consumption of alcohol, as alcohol leads to dehydration.
- A nutritious and balanced diet should be consumed to strengthen the immune system and prevent recurrence of a swollen uvula.
- Vitamin C also helps in boosting the immune system and thus helps in preventing uvulitis.