The uvula is the teardrop-shaped piece of soft tissue that hangs down the back of your throat. It’s made from connective tissue, saliva-producing glands, and some muscle tissue.
When you eat, your soft palate and uvula prevent foods and liquids from going up your nose. Your soft palate is the smoother, muscular part of the roof of your mouth.
Some people need to have their uvula, and sometimes part of their soft palate, removed. Read on to learn more about why and how this is done.
When you sleep, your uvula vibrates. If you have an especially large or long uvula, it can vibrate enough to make you snore. In other cases, it can flap over your airway and block the airflow into your lungs, causing OSA. Removing the uvula can help prevent snoring. It may help symptoms of OSA.
Your doctor might recommend an uvulectomy if you have a large uvula that interferes with your sleep or breathing.
More often, the uvula is partially removed as part of uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). This is the main surgery used to shrink the palate and clear the blockage in OSA. UPPP removes excess tissue from the soft palate and pharynx. Your doctor may also remove the tonsils, adenoids, and all or part of the uvula during this procedure.
In some African and Middle Eastern countries, uvulectomy is performed much more often as a ritual in babies. It’s done to try to prevent or treat conditions ranging from throat infections to coughs. However, there’s no evidence it works for these purposes. It can also cause serious risks, like bleeding and infections.
A week or two before your procedure, let your doctor know about any medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. They might ask you to stop taking certain things a week or so before your surgery.
If you’re having UPPP done, your doctor might also ask you to not eat or drink anything after midnight on the night before your surgery.
An uvulectomy is performed in your doctor’s office. You’ll get both a topical and injected local anesthetic in the back of your mouth to prevent you from feeling pain.
UPPP, on the other hand, is done in a hospital. You’ll be asleep and pain-free under general anesthesia.
To do an uvulectomy, your doctor will use radiofrequency energy or an electric current to remove your uvula. The whole procedure takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
For UPPP, they’ll use small cuts to remove extra tissue from the back of your throat. The length of the procedure depends on how much tissue needs to be removed. You might need to stay in the hospital overnight.
You may feel some pain in your throat for few days after the procedure. In addition to any pain medication your doctor prescribes, sucking on ice or drinking cool liquids can help soothe your throat.
Try to only eat soft foods for the next three to five days to avoid irritating your throat. Avoid hot and spicy foods.
Try to avoid coughing or clearing your throat. This could cause the surgical site to bleed.
Following the procedure, you might notice some swelling and rough edges around the surgical area for a few days. A white scab will form over the place where your uvula was removed. It should disappear in a week or two.
Some people get a bad taste in their mouth, but this should also go away as you heal.
For some, removing the whole uvula can cause:
- difficulty swallowing
- throat dryness
- feeling like there’s a lump in your throat
This is why doctors try to only remove part of the uvula whenever possible.
Other possible risks of the procedure include:
- heavy bleeding
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these more serious symptoms after your procedure:
- a fever of 101°F (38°C) or higher
- bleeding that doesn’t stop
- throat swelling that makes it hard to breathe
- fever and chills
- severe pain that doesn’t respond to pain medication
It takes about three to four weeks to fully heal after an uvulectomy. But you’ll likely be able to go back to work or other activities within a day or two of surgery. Just don’t drive or operate heavy machinery if you’re still taking painkillers. Ask your doctor when it’s safe for you to exercise and do more strenuous activities.
After UPPP, you may need to wait a few days before going back to work or other activities. It could take up to six weeks for you to fully recover.
Uvula removal may be an option if you snore because of a very large uvula, or you have OSA that’s mainly caused by an enlarged uvula. Your doctor might also remove parts of your soft palate at the same time. The procedure only takes a few minutes, and recovery is fairly quick.