Swollen Uvula (Uvulitis): Causes and Treatment

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

A swollen uvula, also known as uvulitis, is due to your body's inflammatory response to infection or illness. Your uvula is the bell-shaped organ hanging from your soft palate at the back of the roof of the mouth.

The uvula contains many salivary glands, helping to keep the airway moist, and plays a role in speech and the sounds of snoring. Though the purpose of the uvula is not well understood, it helps to prevent food and drink from entering your nasal passages.

This article discusses the symptoms of a swollen uvula and the conditions that cause it. It also explains how your healthcare provider can diagnose and treat a swollen uvula.

causes of swollen uvula

Verywell / JR Bee

What Are Symptoms of a Swollen Uvula?

A swollen uvula, which is an uncommon disorder, may cause a variety of symptoms based upon the inflammation at and around the uvula. Symptoms associated with a swollen uvula may include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain
  • Gagging
  • Drooling

You may also experience difficulty with breathing or talking, and snoring with your respirations. In some cases, you may be dehydrated, especially if you've been drinking alcohol. This dehydration can lead to a swollen uvula. It's important to drink plenty of fluids.

Swelling of the uvula without inflammation of other tissues and structures around the uvula is very rare.

What Causes Uvula Swelling?

A swollen uvula may also be caused by the following conditions.

Infections

Infections of the throat may cause other tissues, and subsequently the uvula, to swell. The kind of infection that causes uvulitis may be bacterial or viral, and may include:

  • Strep throat: Group A Streptococcus bacteria is usually at work if you have pharyngitis.
  • Mononucleosis: Causing disorders like tonsillitis
  • Influenza: Usually the case if only your uvula is swollen
  • Epiglottitis: Rare, but is a medical emergency

In epiglottitis, the infection leads to swelling of the epiglottis (a small flap of tissue attached to the end of the tongue) and surrounding structures, and can rapidly lead to breathing problems. If your healthcare provider suspects epiglottitis, they will not swab your throat because that could lead to loss of the airway.

Instead, you'll be sent to the emergency room immediately to ensure that they can protect your airway and place a breathing tube if needed. If you are able to tolerate a computerized tomography (CT) scan, they may perform this to help diagnose epiglottitis.

Epiglottitis is a rare and dangerous condition that was far more likely in children than adults before the Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB) vaccine was routinely given to infants.

In order to determine how to treat your swollen uvula when epiglottitis is not suspected, your healthcare provider will swab your uvula and send the sample for culture. If the cause is bacterial, then your healthcare provider can treat you with antibiotics.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and vaccination status (in children), your healthcare provider may either prescribe oral antibiotics or IV antibiotics. If the culture is negative, then the cause is likely viral and antibiotics will not help.

Allergic Reactions

Uvulitis can be caused by allergic reactions that cause swelling (edema) of the mouth and throat. This can be a sign of an anaphylactic reaction, which is an emergency.

Individuals who experience rapid swelling of the mouth and throat should go to the nearest emergency room to get a shot of epinephrine. Some individuals who have experienced this kind of allergic reaction may carry an epi injection device with them. You may also be treated with an inhaled version of epinephrine called racemic epinephrine.

Hereditary Angioneurotic Edema

Hereditary angioneurotic edema, or HANE, is a rare genetic disorder caused by a gene mutation. The condition causes attacks in which swelling in different areas of the body, including the uvula, can occur.

The swelling will differentiate from many other causes of a swollen uvula, because your uvula will not be erythematous (red), but will be white and swollen like a grape. Most people with this disorder experience their first attack during childhood.

Trauma

Injuries to the uvula may cause it to swell, although trauma to the uvula is not very common. It's possible to burn your uvula by eating hot food, and the uvula can also be damaged as the result of some medical procedures, such as inserting a breathing tube (intubation).

Complications from intubation are rare. Generally, in the case of trauma, sucking on ice chips or using local anesthetics will help manage your symptoms.

Genetic Conditions

Certain genetic conditions may cause abnormalities of the uvula. Cleft lip/palate is a condition that affects the roof of the mouth (palate), causing the uvula to be absent or have other abnormalities.

It's also possible to inherit an elongated uvula; an enlarged or elongated uvula that's inherited is not truly the same as a swollen uvula, though it can cause similar symptoms. If symptoms are troublesome, the uvula may have to be surgically removed.

Can Uvulitis Cause Death?

Uvulitis alone is unlikely to be fatal. But it can be life-threatening when it's associated with epiglottitis,or if an anaphylactic allergic reaction is the cause of the swelling.

How Is a Swollen Uvula Treated?

Treatment of a swollen uvula will vary based on the causes discussed above.

  • Infectious causes: Treatment with antibiotics if bacterial
  • Noninfectious causes: Treatment of symptoms of sore throat by using throat lozenges, sucking or chewing on ice chips, or using topical anesthetics like lidocaine
  • Breathing difficulties: Epinephrine shot or inhaled epinephrine, IV steroids, and IV antihistamines

Oral steroids may also be prescribed as a treatment for a swollen uvula of infectious or non-infectious etiology (origin).

A swollen uvula may play a role in obstructive sleep apnea. Some individuals with sleep apnea undergo surgery to have the uvula removed, called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) or uvulectomy. This surgery is often combined with a base of tongue procedure or a procedure to pull the tongue forward to increase its efficacy.

With proper treatment, you'll usually recover from a swollen uvula without any long-lasting effects. Minor swelling of the uvula may go away on its own without medical treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Cold fluids or ice chips can bring relief to an uncomplicated case of a swollen uvula. But if you can't swallow or talk, or you have difficulty breathing, you should go to the nearest emergency room. Swelling can be treated with medications that will be based on the cause and severity of your swollen uvula.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can COVID-19 make your uvula swell?

    In very rare instances, yes, a swollen, red uvula may be a symptom of COVID-19.

  • Why do I wake up with a swollen uvula?

    If you’re a night snorer, the vibrations caused by snoring can irritate your uvula and cause swelling and discomfort. In other instances, elongation and swelling of the uvula may cause the snoring. Check with a healthcare provider to see if there’s an underlying problem that can be resolved to treat both issues. 

  • Can tonsillitis infect the uvula?

    Severely infected tonsils may swell so large that they push against the uvula and cause it to become inflamed. This doesn’t mean the infection has spread, though. Treating the tonsils should soothe the uvula as well.

11 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. Miranda VSG, Buffon G, Vidor DCGM. Orofacial myofunctional profile of patients with sleep disorders: relationship with result of polysomnography. Codas. 2019 May 6;31(3):e20180183. Portuguese, English. doi:10.1590/2317-1782/20182018183. 

  2. Mount Sinai. Uvulitis Information.

  3. University of Florida Health. Uvulitis.

  4. Guerra, AM, M. Waseem. Epiglottitis. StatPearls Publishing.

  5. Frank M, Zuraw B, Banerji A et al. Management of Children With Hereditary Angioedema Due to C1 Inhibitor DeficiencyPediatrics. 2016;138(5):e20160575. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-0575

  6. Ziahosseini K, Ali S, Simo R, Malhotra R. Uvulitis following general anaesthesia. Case Reports. 2014;2014(sep23 1):bcr2014205038-bcr2014205038. doi:10.1136/bcr-2014-205038

  7. Shomali W, Holman K. Concurrent uvulitis and epiglottitis. Cleve Clin J Med. 2016 Oct;83(10):712-714. doi:10.3949/ccjm.83a.15078.

  8. Nguyen L, Stead TS, Lopez Ortiz C, Gillespie R, Ganti L. Anaphylaxis Presenting as Uvulitis. Cureus. 2021 Sep 9;13(9):e17853. doi:10.7759/cureus.17853.

  9. Chang E, Baik G, Torre C, Brietzke S, Camacho M. The relationship of the uvula with snoring and obstructive sleep apnea: a systematic reviewSleep and Breathing. 2018;22(4):955-961. doi:10.1007/s11325-018-1651-5

  10. Ahmadi A, Jamali M, Sanaei A. Acute isolated uvula swelling: A rare manifestation in patients with COVID-19. Razi Journal of Medical Sciences. 2021;27(11):83-89.

  11. University of Utah. Tonsils--When Is It Time to Take Them Out?

Additional Reading
  • Woods, CR. Clinical Features and Treatment of Uvulitis. http://www.uptodate.com (Subscription Required).