When you were a child, you might have looked in the mirror at the inside of your mouth and wondered about that dangling thing at the back of it. That soft flap of tissue that looks like a droplet at the back of your mouth, or soft palate, is called your palatine uvula.
It’s usually harmless and a good thing to have hanging around.
Purpose of Your Uvula
Your uvula is made of connective tissue, glands, and small muscle fibers. It secretes large amounts of saliva that keep your throat moist and lubricated. It also helps keep food or fluids from ending up in the space behind your nose when you swallow.
Your uvula is also considered an organ of speech. If you speak, say, French, German, Hebrew, or Farsi, to name a few languages, you use your uvula to form certain sounds — though you may not be thinking about it.
Beyond these important functions, medical researchers don’t know much for sure about the uvula’s purpose. But they do know when your uvula has outlived its usefulness.
Why You May Need Your Uvula Removed
If it blocks your airway. Your uvula sits in front of your throat. If it’s too big, it may affect your breathing. A longer or swollen uvula could cause problems for your windpipe.
If it’s too long. Your uvula can cause you to snore or have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
If your snoring is waking you or other members of your household, your doctor might urge you to consider surgery (uvulectomy). You can get your uvula removed even if your snoring isn’t related to sleep apnea.
If you snore really loud or stop breathing altogether during sleep, you might have OSA. Usually, someone who sleeps near you is the one who’ll let you know if you stop breathing.
You may wake up not feeling refreshed and feel very tired during the day. Your doctor may first recommend a CPAP machine but could talk to you about uvula removal surgery.
How to Prepare for Uvula Removal Surgery
When prepping for your surgery, a few days in advance your doctor may tell you to do the following:
- Stop taking blood thinners like aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and warfarin (Coumadin).
- Try to stop smoking as it can make your healing process more difficult.
The day of your uvula removal surgery, your doctor will recommend that you not eat or drink anything for a certain number of hours leading up to your surgery. They may also prescribe you medications to take right before surgery.
Side Effects of Uvula Removal Surgery
While this surgery should be simple, there are some risks that are associated with removing your uvula.
You may experience the following after surgery:
- Trouble swallowing
- Bad breath
- Bleeding, infection, and swelling of the throat
- Painful sore throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- A minor fever
- Feeling stitches in your throat
- Rarely, scar tissue that narrows your airway
More serious risks for this surgery include:
- Change in speech
- Damage to your muscles in your throat and soft palate
Recovering From Uvula Removal Surgery
You’ll want to do the following for an easier recovery.
Drink plenty of liquids. You don’t want your mouth to get too dry. Water, herbal tea, and popsicles are good options to have around. Don’t drink citric juices, because they can make your throat hurt.
Take pain medicine as prescribed. You might feel more pain during the first days after your surgery. You’ll need pain medicine to help as your throat heals.
Eat soft foods. You’ll want to eat not-too-fatty foods that will slide down your throat easily. Avoid foods such as crackers, chips, popcorn, and raw fruits and vegetables.
Rest. Give your body about two weeks to fully heal. You should try to avoid doing difficult activities for a while.
Your doctor will let you know when you’re fully recovered from uvula removal surgery. Once you are, your mouth should feel pretty normal.
But in some moments, your mouth may feel dry or uncomfortable. This can be a side effect of no longer having a uvula. It’s a matter of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Continue drinking lots of water. Keeping your mouth moist should help with discomfort.
If you do have problems after surgery, you should contact your doctor immediately. They'll be able to determine if your mouth is healing properly.