Reasons for Uvula Removal (Uvulectomy)

Why this procedure might be performed

A uvulectomy is a surgical procedure in which all or part of the uvula is removed. The uvula is a bell-shaped organ that hangs from the top of the throat. There are a few different reasons a uvulectomy is performed including some rituals, but most are controversial.

Doctor examining a child's mouth
Agence Photographique BSIP / Getty Images

The uvula plays a role in the gag reflex. It also has a small part in keeping the mouth moist as it contains many salivary glands. Additionally, the uvula helps you articulate. However, you most likely will not suffer from xerostomia (dry mouth) or be unable to articulate clearly after having a uvulectomy.

Reasons for Uvulectomy

While it has not been proven totally effective, perhaps the most common reason for a uvulectomy in the United States is to assist in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. A uvulectomy may be performed alone or as part of a larger procedure called a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). The purpose of both procedures is to remove tissue that may be blocking the airway.

Hereditary angioneurotic edema (HANE) is another condition that a uvulectomy is sometimes used to treat. HANE is a rare disease in which the tissues fill with water. If the tissues in and around the throat become too swollen, a person with this condition can suffocate. The idea behind removing the extra tissue of the uvula is that this frees up more space and can prevent asphyxiation.

The cost of a uvulectomy varies by location and facility. Some insurance carriers may not cover the procedure, depending on whether it's deemed medically necessary. Contact your insurance company before your surgery to find out if the procedure is covered. If it is not, talk to your surgeon. You may be able to negotiate a reduced price for your uvulectomy.

Other than for obstructive sleep apnea and HANE, an uvulectomy is uncommon in the western world and is more commonly practiced in African and Middle Eastern countries.

What Happens During a Uvulectomy Procedure

You do not need to be "put to sleep" using general anesthesia for a uvulectomy. This surgery can be done with local anesthetics to numb the area around your uvula. After you have had time to sufficiently desensitize the area, your surgeon will likely use either a laser-ablation technique or a hot snare approach.

Your surgeon will either perform a low (very little of the uvula is removed), middle (half of the uvula is removed), or high (complete removal) uvulectomy. Following the procedure, you will only need to be observed for about 15 minutes after the procedure and should not have any significant pain or bleeding with either approach.

Prior to going home following a uvulectomy, you will be prescribed an antibiotic and some pain medicine. If you should experience severe pain you should return to your surgeon or go to the emergency department. If significant bleeding occurs go immediately to the emergency department. Minor amounts of bleeding can be dealt with by your surgeon, however, post-operative bleeding after a uvulectomy is rare.

Ritualistic Uvulectomies

In some African and Middle Eastern countries, there are ritualistic reasons for having uvulectomies performed, particularly in children. In Nigeria and Niger, the Hausa believe that the uvula places newborn babies at risk for dying from a swollen uvula. To prevent this from occurring, it is common to have the uvula removed by 7 days after birth.

The barber-surgeon identifies whether the ritual should be performed by looking at the uvula for redness, seeing if it is swollen, or looking for a finger imprint after pressing on the forehead. The ritualistic practice includes:

  1. Recitations from the Koran before removing the uvula
  2. Removing the uvula with a sickle-shaped knife
  3. Using herbal powders to stop the bleeding
  4. Placing the uvula on the forehead of the child (and then later hanging the uvula in the home)
  5. Shaving the head of the child

In some countries, variations to this practice may also include a hymenectomy, circumcision, and replacement of the sickle-shaped knife with another ritualistic tool (reed-fork, horsehair, or a hot knife). Ethiopians and the Sinai Bedouins of Egypt believe that their children will be more tolerant of thirst in the desert by performing the ritual. Some other reasons for performing a ritualistic uvulectomy include:

  • chronic cough
  • difficulty swallowing or breastfeeding
  • speech problems
  • recurrent/chronic infections in the throat
  • congestion
  • failure to thrive

Associated Risks

Risks with modern uvulectomies are minimal. However, pain, bleeding, and infections are possible risks. You may also have a change in your voice in the one to two weeks after your uvula is removed. 

Ritualistic uvulectomies however, carry several risk factors due to technique and sanitary conditions of the surgical instruments. Ritualistic uvulectomies stand a much greater chance at having an infection or bleeding after the removal of your uvula.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fauquier ENT Consultants. Uvulectomy (Uvula Excision) for Snoring.

  2. Khan A, Ramar K, Maddirala S, Friedman O, Pallanch JF, Olson EJ. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty in the management of obstructive sleep apnea: the mayo clinic experience. Mayo Clin Proc. 2009;84(9):795-800.

  3. Henao MP, Kraschnewski JL, Kelbel T, Craig TJ. Diagnosis and screening of patients with hereditary angioedema in primary care. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2016;12:701-11. doi:10.2147/TCRM.S86293

  4. Ravesloot MJ, De vries N. 'A good shepherd, but with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome': traditional uvulectomy case series and literature review. J Laryngol Otol. 2011;125(9):982-6. doi:10.1017/S0022215111001526

  5. Adoga AA, Nimkur TL. The traditionally amputated uvula amongst Nigerians: still an ongoing practice. ISRN Otolaryngol. 2011;704924. doi:10.5402/2011/704924

Additional Reading
  • Aetna. Clinical Policy Bulletin: Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults.
  • Friedman, M. (2009). Sleep Apnea and Snoring: Surgical and Non-Surgical Therapy. Saunders: Elsevier.
  • Jacobson, R., Ladizinski, B & Lee, K.C. (2013). Uvulectomies and Associated Complications. JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(1):32. 
  • Medscape Nurses. Hereditary Angioneurotic Edema Treated by Partial Uvulectomy. 

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.