What Causes a Swollen Uvula?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 02, 2023
5 min read

It’s the flesh that hangs in the back of your throat. It helps you swallow and speak. But you can run into problems if it's larger than normal. A swollen uvula can cause a sore throat, redness, trouble breathing or talking, or a choking feeling.

If your uvula is oversized, it's a sign from your body that something's not right. Sometimes the cause can’t be found. Other times, you'll need a doctor's care to treat the cause.

You uvula does things like:

  • Making saliva in your mouth, which helps lubricate the back of your mouth for easier swallowing
  • Directing food and water into your throat
  • Stopping your soft palate from being forced into your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Controlling part of your gag reflex‌

A bifid uvula, also called a cleft uvula, is a uvula that’s split or forked. It can be harmless, or it can be a sign of other conditions, like a submucosal cleft palate. 

Sometimes it can cause you to have problems with swallowing and other issues.

Uvulas are classified in four ways:

  • Type A. A normal uvula, shaped like a teardrop or a grape.
  • Type B. The uvula is split up to one quarter of its length.
  • Type C. The uvula is split from one quarter to three quarters of its length.
  • Type D. The uvula is split from three quarters to completely split.

You can get a swollen uvula from infections including the flu, mononucleosis, croup, and strep throat. Even a common cold can cause your uvula to swell.

Depending on the type of your infection, you may have symptoms like:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Body aches

Your throat may be sore and red. See your doctor if you have a sore throat that lasts longer than a week.

To get rid of the swelling, you need to treat what's causing it. A doctor can tell you whether that’s a virus or bacteria. Most infections caused by a virus don't have a treatment. You just wait for them to clear up. If the problem is caused by bacteria, your doctor may suggest antibiotics.

While you wait for your infection to pass, you can:

  • Drink lots of water.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Use pain relievers, throat sprays, or other at-home remedies for sore throats.

Puffed up skin or tissue is a common symptom of allergies. Your uvula might be bigger because you have seasonal allergies to grass or pollen. Or your swelling might be because of dust or pet dander. Certain foods, such as milk, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and eggs, can cause allergic reactions, too.

If allergies are the cause of your swollen uvula, you might also have:

  • Hives
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose

An allergist can help pinpoint what’s causing your symptoms. That way, you can try to avoid allergy triggers in the future. You'll need medicine to help the swelling go down if it happens again.

For severe allergies, your doctor might suggest you get allergy shots.

This can also make your uvula swell. Common causes include:

Intubation (your doctor puts a breathing tube in your throat)

  • Endoscopy (your doctor puts in a tube with a camera attached to view the digestive tract)
  • Complications from procedures such as tonsil removal
  • Damage from acid reflux (GERD) or frequent throwing up

As your uvula heals, your swelling will go down. Your doctor may suggest pain meds or anti-inflammatory drugs.

Some meds may cause swelling, either because of an allergic reaction or how they interact with your body. Glucosamine sulfate, a medication for joints, may cause a swollen uvula in some people. Even though NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen treat inflammation, they might cause swelling -- a rare condition called NSAID-induced angioedema.

Other drugs that may make your uvula swell include:

  • Ipratropium bromide, a medication for asthma or other breathing problems
  • ACE inhibitors, a class of medicines for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, migraine, and other conditions that tighten your blood vessels

Your doctor can find a replacement medication if the swelling in your uvula is causing too many problems.

In rare cases, snoring can cause your uvula to swell. This type of snoring may come from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes loud snoring with periods of stopped breathing.

If you have sleep apnea, you may also:

  • Wake up with a sore throat
  • Often wake your partner
  • Feel sleepy during the day even after a full night's sleep
  • Have chest pain at night
  • Have high blood pressure

See your doctor if you think snoring might be the cause of your swollen uvula. Your doctor may want to do certain tests, like an X-ray or a sleep study, to observe your sleep. Your treatment will depend on various things, but you may be able to lessen your snoring if you:

  • Drop pounds if you're overweight.
  • Cut back on alcohol, especially at bedtime.
  • Use nasal decongestants.
  • Sleep in a different position.
  • Use a mouth guard.
  • Wear a CPAP device to keep your airway open during sleep.
  • Have surgery to open your airway.

Maybe you inherited the cause of your swollen uvula from one or both of your parents. Hereditary angioedema (HAE) is a rare disorder that causes fluid to collect around the blood vessels and stop the flow of lymph fluid in your body. This can make your tissues swell. If you have this, it's likely other parts of your body also swell, including your hands, feet, eyelids, lips, and genital area.

Your doctor will give you a blood test to confirm a diagnosis of HAE. There's no cure, but meds can help prevent attacks.

To help manage symptoms, you can:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
  • Try warm or cold foods to soothe the area.
  • Keep the air moist with a humidifier.
  • Suck on a lozenge to keep your throat moist.