Uvulitis: Causes and Treatment for Swollen Uvula

Medically reviewed by Daniel Murrell, MD on July 5, 2017Written by Ann Pietrangelo on June 13, 2016

What is a uvula and uvulitis?

Your uvula is the fleshy piece of tissue hanging down over your tongue toward the back of your mouth. It’s part of the soft palate. The soft palate helps close your nasal passages when you swallow. The uvula helps push food toward your throat.

Uvulitis is inflammation, including swelling, of the uvula. It can be irritating, but it’s usually temporary. However, if swelling of the uvula is severe, it can interfere with your ability to swallow. It’s not common, but a swollen uvula can restrict your breathing.

There are many causes of uvulitis. Sometimes uvulitis can be resolved with a simple home remedy. Sometimes medical treatment is necessary.

Symptoms of uvulitis

If you have uvulitis, your uvula will appear red, puffy, and larger than normal. Uvulitis may also be associated with:

If you have a swollen uvula along with a fever or abdominal pain, talk with your doctor right away. This can be an indication of an underlying medical issue that needs to be treated.

What causes a swollen uvula?

There are many types of uvulitis causes. Inflammation is your body’s response when it’s under attack. Triggers for inflammation include:

  • environmental and lifestyle factors
  • infection
  • trauma
  • genetics

Environmental and lifestyle factors

Certain environmental and lifestyle factors can lead to reactions that include a swollen uvula. These factors include:

  • Allergens: Ingesting or inhaling certain allergens, such as dust, animal dander, pollen, or certain foods, can cause allergic reactions in some people. One of these reactions is swelling in different parts of the body, including the uvula.
  • Medication: Certain medications may have side effects that can cause your uvula to swell.
  • Dehydration: Lack of enough fluids in your body can lead to uvulitis. Although it’s not common, some people have had a swollen uvula after drinking too much alcohol and becoming dehydrated.
  • Chemicals or other substances: Inhaling certain substances that are toxic to your body could lead to many reactions, including a swollen uvula. This includes tobacco, and in one research case, cannabis.
  • Snoring: Snoring can be a result of a swollen uvula. In rare cases it can also be a cause, especially if your snoring causes heavy vibrations that irritate your uvula.

Infection

Certain infections can lead to irritation of your uvula that can cause uvulitis. Examples of viral infections that could lead to uvulitis include:

The most common bacterial infection is strep throat, which could cause the uvula to become irritated and lead to uvulitis. Strep throat is caused by an infection with Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria.

If you have infected tonsils, or tonsillitis, severe inflammation can cause them to push against your uvula. This can cause your uvula to become irritated and swollen.

Certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) could potentially contribute to uvulitis. People whose immune systems have been compromised from HIV and genital herpes are at greater risk of oral thrush, which may lead to a swollen uvula.

Trauma

Trauma to your uvula can be caused by a medical condition or surgical procedure. Frequent vomiting or acid reflux from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause your throat and uvula to become irritated.

Your uvula can be damaged during an intubation, such as during surgery. Your uvula can also be injured during a tonsillectomy. This is a procedure to remove your tonsils, which are located on both sides of your uvula.

Genetics

An uncommon condition called hereditary angioedema can cause swelling of the uvula and throat, as well as swelling of the face, hands, and feet. However, it only occurs in 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50,000 people, according to the US Hereditary Angioedema Association.

Elongated uvula is a rare genetic condition in which the uvula is larger than normal. It’s similar to but isn’t uvulitis and isn’t caused by uvulitis. Like uvulitis, it can interfere with breathing. However, unlike uvulitis, when treatment is necessary, surgery is the only option.

Risk factors for a swollen uvula

Anyone can get uvulitis, but adults get it less often than children do. You’re at increased risk if you:

  • have allergies
  • use tobacco products
  • are exposed to chemicals and other irritants in the environment
  • have a weakened immune system, making you more susceptible to infections

Home remedies for a swollen uvula

If you have a swollen uvula or sore throat, it’s your body’s way of telling you that something’s wrong. A few home remedies can help keep you strong and soothe your irritated throat:

  • Cool your throat by sucking on ice chips. Frozen juice bars or ice cream may also do the trick.
  • Gargle with warm salt water to ease your dry, scratchy throat.
  • Get a full night’s sleep and nap during the day if you can.

Make sure you’re getting enough fluids. If your throat hurts when you drink, try drinking small amounts throughout the day. Your urine should be light in color. If it’s dark yellow or brown, you’re not drinking enough and may be dehydrated.

Diagnosing the cause of uvulitis

If you have fever or swelling of your throat, see your doctor. This is most likely a sign that a condition that requires medical treatment is causing your uvulitis. Be prepared to give a complete medical history to your doctor. Tell your doctor:

  • about all the over-the-counter and prescription medications you take
  • if you’re a smoker or you chew tobacco
  • if you’ve recently tried new foods
  • if you’ve been exposed to chemicals or unusual substances
  • about your other symptoms, such as abdominal pain, fever, or dehydration

Your doctor may be able to diagnose the condition through a physical exam. It’s likely your doctor will swab your throat for secretions to test for a bacterial or fungal infection. Your doctor may also swab your nostrils to test for influenza. They may need to test your blood to help identify or rule out some other infectious agents.

If results from those tests are inconclusive, you may need to see an allergist. Blood and skin tests can help identify foods or other substances that cause a reaction.

Medical treatment for a swollen uvula

When you have something like the common cold, swelling usually clears up on its own without treatment. Otherwise, treatment will depend on the cause. Usually, treating the underlying cause will resolve the uvulitis.

Infection

Viral infections tend to clear up without treatment. Influenza is the only upper respiratory infection that has an antiviral medication available.

Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections. Even after symptoms clear up, take all the medication as prescribed. If your condition may be contagious, stay home until your doctor tells you that you’re no longer at risk of spreading it to others.

Allergies

If you test positive for an allergy, try to avoid the allergen in the future. Doctors usually treat allergies with antihistamines or steroids. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. Doctors use epinephrine to treat this reaction.

Hereditary angioedema

Your doctor may treat hereditary angioedema with any of the following medications:

Talk to your doctor

Uvulitis isn’t a common occurrence. Most of the time it clears up without treatment. Sometimes the swelling can be treated with a home remedy. However, sometimes uvulitis is caused by a medical condition that needs to be treated.

If your uvulitis doesn’t clear on its own or with a little help at home — or if your uvulitis is affecting your breathing — talk to your doctor. They can help you find the cause and appropriate treatment for your uvulitis and may be able to offer tips on how to prevent it from happening again.

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