A bifid uvula is an uvula that is split, or forked. It’s also called a cleft uvula. The uvula is the dangling piece of fibrous flesh you can see in the back of your mouth, just in front of your tonsils. It’s shaped like a small teardrop or punching bag. In fact, uvula means “little grape” in Latin.
The uvula is part of the soft palate. The soft palate is the muscular (not the bony and hard) section of the roof of your mouth. The uvula serves several purposes, from lubricating the back of your mouth to directing nasal secretions to your throat. Its primary function is twofold:
- It helps the soft palate close when eating and drinking, preventing food and liquid from entering your nose.
- It helps move the soft palate to the back of your throat so words and sounds are properly enunciated.
People with a bifid uvula will have more trouble moving their soft palate during times of eating, drinking, and speaking. Food may not be digested properly, and speech can be distorted. This is especially true when the uvula is deeply split.
A bifid uvula can be seen upon visual examination of older children and adults. Because the uvula continues to develop after birth, it’s not always readily apparent in newborns. A doctor may suspect a bifid uvula, however, if a baby regurgitates their food through their nose. This is an indication that the uvula isn’t moving their soft palate to a closed position.
Extremely nasal-sounding speech may also indicate the presence of a bifid uvula. This occurs because the soft palate doesn’t properly move to the back of the throat, allowing air to escape through the nose when talking.
Another symptom of a bifid uvula may be recurrent ear infections, but many doctors say this link, if any, isn’t strong. More studies are needed to support this connection.
A bifid uvula is sometimes referred to as the mildest form of a cleft palate. A cleft palate is one of the most common birth defects and occurs when there is a hole in the roof of a baby’s mouth. Bifid uvula affects 2 percent of the population. Those of certain races, including Native Americans and Asians, are more prone to it. It also occurs more frequently in males than females.
Both a cleft palate and a bifid uvula may be hereditary. They can also be the result of genetic conditions or caused by environmental factors. Smoking, certain medications, and diabetes can increase the risk of delivering a baby with a cleft palate.
Many people with a bifid uvula experience no complications or symptoms. In some cases, though, it can be associated with certain health complications.
Submucous cleft palate
A bifid uvula can be a sign of an underlying submucous cleft palate. With this type of cleft palate, a thin membrane covers the hole in the roof of the mouth, making the condition less obvious to medical professionals. It can cause the same sort of digestive and speaking problems as those that stem from a fully visible cleft palate.
Research shows that 30 percent of people with a submucous cleft palate also have a bifid uvula.
Treatment is usually only needed if the submucous cleft palate is causing speech and eating difficulties.
A bifid uvula is also sometimes seen in Loeys-Dietz syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects connective tissue. This syndrome is associated with heart problems and can predispose a person to bulging, weak arteries, known as aneurysms. Weak arteries can burst and cause internal bleeding, and even death.
Many people lead healthy, normal lives with a bifid uvula and need no treatment. If a bifid uvula is causing symptoms, a doctor may recommend speech and feeding therapies from qualified professionals.
In some cases, however, especially when speech is extremely nasal or feeding problems are significant, surgery to repair the uvula and any underlying factors, like a submucous cleft palate, may be advised. The best professional to evaluate and treat a bifid uvula is an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.