Inflammation of the Uvula

doctor examining a woman's throat
The uvula may swell and cause difficulty swallowing. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

The uvula hangs down in the back of the mouth and is the final portion of the soft palate. Although the function of this soft flap of skin is not fully understood, possible functions may include assisting with speech and the production of saliva. Some people can experience swelling and inflammation of the uvula, called uvulitis, which may require medical treatment. The condition may lead to complications such as snoring or airway obstruction.

Causes

An allergic response may bring about uvular swelling and inflammation. These symptoms may also occur after a person ingests nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, cocaine or marijuana or after he has had his tonsils and adenoids removed.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of an inflamed uvula generally go along with swelling and inflammation of additional parts of the mouth and throat, such as the tonsils and the soft palate. The uvula can significantly increase in size and may even rest on the rear of the tongue. The color to the uvula may appear a deeper, darker red color when inflamed. People with an inflamed uvula have trouble talking clearly. The uvula may swell enough to obstruct the airway, making breathing and swallowing difficult. An elongated uvula may also cause snoring and lead to obstructive sleep apnea, according to the Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. An inflamed uvula may also cause discomfort or pain when swallowing and talking.

Tests and Exams

Doctors can perform a culture of the throat can determine if a bacterial infection is causing the inflammation. A laboratory examination of the culture can determine the proper course of treatment. Giving your doctor a complete medical history helps her determine the cause of the uvular edema and inflammation.

Treatment

Treatment for an inflamed uvula depends on the cause of the condition. If the inflammation begins to obstruct the airway, emergency procedures should be taken to keep the airway open. A person with any airway obstruction needs to seek immediate medical attention to prevent serious complications. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics if the inflammation is from a bacterial infection. Inflammation from a virus may improve with rest, over-the-counter pain medications and drinking plenty of fluids. Taking an antihistamine can help reduce edema caused by an allergic response. Cessation of medications or drugs may help reduce the swelling, if they are they cause of the condition. Gargling with salt water may also temporarily soothe pain associated with uvular inflammation.

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