Swollen uvula (little thing that hangs in the back of your throat)

Originally Published: January 26, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 15, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I am a twenty-five-year-old male and I have a swollen and lengthy uvula (the little thing that hangs in the back of your throat). What could it be? Thanks.

Dear Reader,

The uvula (more commonly known as "the little thing that hangs in the back of your throat") is made of muscle and connective tissue and is covered with the same mucous membrane that lines the inside of your cheeks and the roof of your mouth. Many things can cause a swollen uvula. The usual suspects include:

  • Tonsillitis
  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Allergies
  • Trauma

It's possible, but rare, to have swelling without any of these other problems. A few other potential causes include dehydration, smoking, and ulcers.

Have you noticed any changes in your voice or the making of certain sounds? Because the uvula is believed to have a role in helping make a number of sounds, you might experience some differences (albeit minor) from swelling. What about your sleep? Have you been snoring? Disrupted sleep due to breathing? A swollen uvula can be associated with snoring and sleep apnea. If you are experiencing any breathing difficulties, it’s important to see a health care provider soon.

By the way, how long have you had a swollen and lengthy uvula? If it's a recent development, if it's accompanied by other symptoms (such as fever or pain), or if you're having problems with swallowing, talking, or breathing, it's best to get it checked by your health care provider. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can make an appointment with Medical Services and CUMC students can visit Student Health Services.

If you continue to have problems, especially if your uvula is longer than normal, it is possible to have it shortened. It has been reported that uvular shortening is ritually practiced some parts of Africa. However, an otolaryngologist or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist is the more likely provider to see in the U.S. if shortening were medically indicated.

Best of luck to you with identifying causes and finding solutions to your unique uvular experience.

Alice