Uvula is a conic projection that is located just at the middle of the soft palate at the posterior end of the oral cavity. This small organ is made of connective tissues and it plays a key role in articulation of sound of human voice. It plays another important role while swallowing. It prevents the entry of food into the nasal cavity, and to serve this purpose, the uvula and the soft palate move and close off the nasopharynx, as we swallow food. An enlarged or swollen uvula is one of the common uvula problems along with velopharyngeal insufficiency, nasal regurgitation, snoring, sleep apnea and bifid uvula. Inflammation of the uvula is usually referred as uvulitis.
An enlarged uvula can occur if the mucous membrane surrounding the uvula swells. Such swelling in turn can produce a choking or gagging sensation in the throat. Dehydration, tonsillitis, common cold and allergies are some of the common causes. Dehydration often forces the uvula to soak saliva, and thus, enlarge. People who are sensitive or allergic to certain substances can also experience a swollen uvula when exposed to such allergens. Even exposure to extremely hot or cold food can irritate the uvula and cause it to swell.
Apart from dehydration, viral or bacterial infections and allergies, uvula swelling can also be caused by smoking or exposure to some irritants. Smoking is known to dry up the inside of the mouth, which in turn causes itching and swelling of the uvula. Similarly, inhalation of irritants can also cause the uvula to dry up and swell.
Another condition that can contribute to the development of dry mouth, and eventually uvulitis, is the habit of keeping the mouth open while sleeping, or breathing through the mouth. Breathing through the mouth dries up the oral cavity, again forcing the uvula to soak saliva and swell. Many times, snoring can also contribute to an inflamed uvula. When a person snores, his or her throat and tongue meet the uvula and the soft palate, which can cause this small organ to enlarge. Canker sores that commonly affect the oral cavity can sometimes develop on the uvula which may cause it to enlarge.
Enlarged uvula is not a serious medical condition, and most of the time it can be treated at home. If dehydration is the cause for uvula swelling, then the problem would resolve with sufficient intake of water. If the condition persists even after fluid intake, then try gargling with saline water. Just mix some salt with a glass of lukewarm water, and use it for gargling. Similarly, honey can also help to relieve an enlarged uvula. A few drops of it added to warm water or tea will bring much-needed relief.
If the underlying cause of an inflamed uvula is cold or viral and bacterial infections, then appropriate treatment would be required to alleviate these conditions. However, in the meantime, you can make an effective home remedy for cold and respiratory problems, by adding a small amount of turmeric to a glass of iced water. Drinking cold water would numb the area and help you to get relief from the discomfort caused by an enlarged uvula.
Cut back on smoking as it can cause an already inflamed uvula to worsen. Similarly, avoid the consumption of alcohol to prevent the condition from worsening.
But if the condition persists for a considerable period, even after trying all these home remedies, then it is advisable to consult an otolaryngology specialist, especially if it interferes with breathing and eating. This step would ensure proper diagnosis of the condition to find out and treat the underlying causes. In case of recurrent uvulitis, the patient may be required to inject epinephrine or adrenaline whenever the uvula begins to swell up.