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Why Is Your Uvula Swollen? Symptoms, Causes & Questions

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Written by Jack Wilkinson, MD.
Fellow, Cornell/Columbia New York Presbyterian Child Psychiatry Program
Last updated April 15, 2024

Swollen uvula quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen uvula.

If you have a swollen uvula, you may also be experiencing a sore throat, trouble swallowing, and maybe even a fever. An enlarged uvula is often caused by infection, an allergic reaction, or irritation from chemicals or medical procedures. Read below to find out how long a swollen uvula lasts and how to get treatment.

Swollen uvula quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen uvula.

Take swollen uvula quiz

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Swollen uvula symptoms

After a scratchy throat and some trouble swallowing, you finally grab a mirror and notice a strange sight: a swollen uvula. You may not even have known the name of that fleshy tissue hanging in the back of your throat before it started giving you problems, but now you just want it to go away.

The uvula is part of the soft palate made up of muscle, connective tissue, mucus glands and immune cells. When functioning properly, it swings upward to block food from entering your nose when you swallow. When swollen, it's unsightly and uncomfortable.

A swollen uvula usually occurs along with a throat infection, but less commonly, it can happen in isolation.

Common accompanying symptoms of a swollen uvula are

Children are more vulnerable than adults to experience swollen uvula symptoms. It is also likely to experience the following at the same time.

What causes a swollen uvula?

A sore throat is often the first sign of a swollen uvula as the swelling can also impact the tonsils and surrounding soft palate.

In most cases, a thorough examination and investigation of potential risk factors points to an underlying swollen uvula cause, which include some of the following:

  • Infection: Bacteria that cause strep throat and tonsillitis can also lead to infection and swelling of the uvula.
  • Instrumentation: Medical procedures that involve the mouth and throat or those that require a breathing tube can cause irritation and swelling of the uvula.
  • Allergic reaction: Certain foods and medications may cause swelling of the back of the throat, including the uvula, along with symptoms like rash or itchiness.
  • Medication side effect: Certain drugs like pain-relievers or high-blood pressure pills may cause a swelling reaction called angioedema that typically involves the lips and throat.
  • Steam or chemical inhalation: Breathing in hot air, smoke, or harsh chemicals causes burns and irritation that lead to swelling.
  • Toxic ingestion: Swallowing chemicals accidentally or intentionally irritates the back of the throat.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Viral throat infection

A sore throat is most often caused by the same viruses that cause influenza and the common cold. The illness spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and then someone else inhales the airborne virus or touches a surface where it has landed.

Those most at risk for viral sore throat are children, smokers, those who work indoors with others, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Symptoms include throat irritation; pain when swallowing or talking; red, swollen tonsils; fever; body aches; and cold-like symptoms of cough, sneezing, and runny nose.

If symptoms do not clear up within 24 hours – especially in children – a medical provider should be seen. A persistent sore throat can be a symptom of serious illness such as mononucleosis, measles, chickenpox, or croup.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and throat swab.

Treatment involves rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Do not give aspirin to children. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and cannot help against a viral illness.

The best prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing.

Strep throat requiring throat swab

Strep throat, or "strep," is a sore throat specifically caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, also called group A streptococcus.

The illness spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and then someone else inhales the airborne bacteria, or touches a surface where it has landed and then touches their own face.

Children are most susceptible but anyone can be infected.

Symptoms include sudden throat pain, fever, headache, rash, body aches, and red, swollen tonsils. These symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, so a sample is taken by gently rubbing a sterile cotton-tipped swab over the back of the throat.

Testing will identify the organism responsible so that treatment with the appropriate antibiotic can begin. Be sure to finish all of the medication as directed, even after feeling better.

Untreated strep throat can lead to ear infections, kidney disease, scarlet fever, and rheumatic fever. These are serious illnesses. If strep throat is suspected, the person should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Ludwig's angina

Ludwig angina is a bacterial infection of the floor of the mouth and occurs beneath the tongue.

You should visit an emergency room immediately. This requires immediate antibiotic treatment and, in some cases, surgery.

Common cold

The common cold is a contagious viral infection that can cause cough, congestion, runny nose, and sore throat. Most adults catch two to three colds per year, and kids can get more than eight colds each year.

Rest and drink plenty of fluids. Colds are contagious and can easily spread to other people, so if possible, avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands. Colds typically resolve within 7 to 10 days.

Acute salivary duct stone (sialolithiasis)

A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.

You can try treating this at home and going to the doctor if things don't work. You can stay well hydrated, apply warm compresses, and massage or "milk" the duct with the stone in it. Another tip would be to suck on lemon drops or other hard tart candy (called sialogogues, which promote salivary secretions) throughout the day. Pain is treated with NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. If things do not get better or you cannot find the stone, it's best to go to your doctor.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, painful face swelling, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Swollen uvula treatments and relief

A swollen uvula can be bothersome and uncomfortable, especially if it gets in the way of speaking or swallowing. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for the problem, which usually takes several days or more to resolve. In the meantime, most at-home treatments focus on addressing discomfort and keeping the problem from getting any worse.

At-home treatment

The following treatments can be tried at home and may provide relief.

  • Eat soft foods: Eat small meals of soft foods like yogurt and cottage cheese, well-cooked pasta or rice, and eggs, tofu or beans.
  • Avoid anything spicy or hot: Though boring, bland foods are your best friend when dealing with a swollen uvula that may be extra sensitive.
  • Stay hydrated: It's important to drink plenty of water or other liquids to stay hydrated and help the body in its healing process.
  • Gargle: Lukewarm salt water or mouthwash can be comforting.
  • Throat sprays: Over-the-counter numbing spray like Chloraseptic offer temporary relief from a sore throat.
  • Antihistamine: Try diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to help with any swelling or itching that may accompany the swollen uvula due to an allergic reaction.

When to see a doctor

If at-home treatments are ineffective, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she may suggest the following.

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment for bacterial infection.
  • Steroids: Drugs like prednisone attack the swelling and help to speed recovery
  • X-rays: Imaging can help determine if the swelling is confined to the uvula or if it extends further down the throat and requires further observation and treatment.
  • Tonsillectomy: If your uvula becomes repeatedly swollen as the result of a surrounding infection like tonsillitis, your doctor may elect to remove your tonsils to prevent future infections. The uvula is usually not removed, except in severe circumstances.

When it is an emergency

Get help right away if you have the following swollen uvula symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • An allergic reaction: Or have a history of allergic reactions
  • Swelling that is getting rapidly worse
  • Inability to swallow anything at all

Since children have smaller throats and airways, it is important that they be evaluated without delay for any swelling in the back of the throat, especially if accompanied by labored breathing, wheezing, drooling or high fever.

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FAQs about swollen uvula

Can a swollen uvula be contagious?

A swollen uvula is referred to as uvulitis and can be identified when the uvula (the hanging structure in the back of the throat) is swollen. It is common in children and can be caused by Group A Strep in children from ages 5 to 15. It is a type of strep throat infection and is therefore contagious, but most people will develop pharyngitis (swelling of the pharynx) instead of uvulitis.

Can alcohol cause a swollen uvula?

Alcoholic cleansers can cause uvulitis, though it is uncommon. More frequently, chemical irritants that produce vapors, hot steam, or even procedures on the pharynx like intubation or endoscopy can cause uvulitis. Alcohol routinely consumed as liquor is a less frequent cause.

Why is my uvula swollen when I wake up?

In adults, the most common causes of uvulitis is ingestion of noxious chemicals including alcoholic cleaners, cannabis smoke, medical procedures, hereditary swelling (e.g. angioedema), or allergic reactions. It does not normally occur when one awakes. If you have uvulitis and pain when you wake up, you should see a physician and review the history of the prior night.

Does a swollen uvula cause you to snore?

No, snoring is caused by a "floppy" upper airway. This means that the pharynx — the back of the nose and throat — has increasing collapsibility and resistance as one is breathing at night. It tends to collapse and expand quickly as if it is vibrating. This can result in several medical complications if it is associated with sleep apnea.

How long does a swollen uvula last?

A swollen uvula can last anywhere from a few days to a week and a half depending on the cause. However, if you have a swollen uvula, and particularly if you are having trouble breathing, you should seek medical attention. For most instances of soft tissue swelling, an over-the-counter pain medication is a reasonable treatment.

Questions your doctor may ask about swollen uvula

  • What part of your mouth is swollen?
  • Do you have a rash?
  • Does your throat feel itchy or irritated?
  • Are your symptoms worse while eating?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hear what 2 others are saying
Once your story receives approval from our editors, it will exist on Buoy as a helpful resource for others who may experience something similar.
The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
My swollen palatePosted April 28, 2021 by S.
I’ve been dealing with a swollen uvula for weeks since I had a tooth pulled and got an infection. Woke up choking, couldn’t see my uvula—it was stretched right out. I did get antibiotics from my dentist, but it keeps coming back and sometimes it bleeds!? I’m now using warm water and salt. It’s not sore. More, red-like inflamed. But will it ever go back to normal? I had a lot of phlegm at one time, but that’s not bad now! I'm going back to the dentist this week and see what he says. If not, I should see my family dr soon!
Swollen uvulaPosted February 23, 2021 by J.
I have sleep apnea and the stress of the snoring causes my uvula to swell. I went to the emergency room one day and the doctor said, when he first saw it, I have never seen anything like this. When I sleep on my back and snore, it swells to the size of about nickel, And if I sleep on my stomach, it stays normal.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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