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Uvula's location in the human mouth
Latin uvula palatina
Gray's subject #241 1112
MeSH A14.549.617.780.729

The uvula (pronounced /ˈjuːvjələ/) is the conic projection from the posterior edge of the middle of the soft palate, composed of connective tissue containing a number of racemose glands, and some muscular fibers (musculus uvulae).[1]


In Latin, ūvula means 'little grape', the diminutive form of ūva 'grape' (of unknown origin). A swollen uvula was called "ūva."[2]

Function in voice

The uvula plays a key role in the articulation of the sound of the human voice to form the sounds of speech.[3] Anita O'Day, a popular big band singer, had her uvula accidentally removed during a childhood surgery when only her tonsils were intended to be removed. This affected her voice by eliminating vibrato, she said, in an interview with Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air" radio show, although the uvula is not responsible for vibrato (the vocal cords make this happen).[citation needed]

Function in languages

The uvula functions in tandem with the back of the throat, the palate, and air coming up from the lungs to create a number of guttural and other sounds. Uvular consonants are not found in most dialects of English, though they are found in many Semitic, Caucasian, and Turkic languages, as well as several languages of Western Europe such as German, French and a few Celtic languages. Certain African languagesTemplate:Which? use the uvula to produce click consonants as well, though other than that, uvular consonants are fairly uncommon in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Emetic Effect

Massaging the uvula causes the gag reflex to initiate and expel stomach contents. This is often an issue for people who plan to get uvula piercings.

Velopharyngeal insufficiency

In a small number of people, the uvula does not close properly against the back of the throat, causing a condition known as velopharyngeal insufficiency or VPI. This causes "nasal" (or more properly "hyper-nasal") speech, where a lot of extra air comes down the nose, and the speaker is unable to say certain consonants, for example producing the sound /b/ like /m/.

Snoring and sleep apnea

The uvula can also contribute to snoring or heavy breathing during sleep; having an elongated uvula can cause vibrations which lead to snoring. In some cases this can lead to sleep apnea, which may be treated by removal of the uvula or part of it if necessary, an operation known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (commonly referred to as UPPP, or U3P). However, this operation can also cause sleep apnea if scar tissue forms and the airspace in the velopharnyx is decreased. The success of UPPP as a treatment for sleep apnea is unknown, but some research has shown 40–60% effectiveness in reducing symptoms.[4] Typically apnea subsides for the short term, but returns over the medium to long term, and sometimes is worse than it was before the UPPP.

Nasal regurgitation

During swallowing, the soft palate and the uvula move superiorly to close off the nasopharynx, preventing food from entering the nasal cavity. When this process fails, the result is called nasal regurgitation. It is common in people with VPI, the myositides and neuromuscular disorders.



A child's swollen uvula with tonsils


An adult's swollen uvula

At times, the mucous membrane around the uvula may swell, causing the uvula to expand 3–5 times its normal size. When the uvula touches the throat or tongue, it can cause sensations like gagging or choking, even though there is no foreign matter present. This can cause problems breathing, talking, and eating.

There are many theories about what causes the uvula to swell, including dehydration (e.g. from arid weather); excessive smoking or other inhaled irritants; snoring; allergic reaction; or a viral or bacterial infection. An aphthous ulcer which has formed on the uvula can also cause swelling and discomfort.[5]

If the swelling is caused by dehydration, drinking fluids may improve the condition. If the cause is a bacterial infection, gargling salt water may help. However, it can also be a sign of other problems. Some people with a history of recurring uvulitis have to carry an EpiPen containing Adrenaline (Epinephrine) to inject themselves whenever the uvulitis begins. A swollen uvula is normally not life threatening and subsides in a short time, typically within a day.[6]

Bifid uvula

File:Bifid uvula.JPG

A bifid or cleft uvula.

File:Tanya Uvula.jpg

The bifid uvula of a 24 year old woman.

A bifid uvula is a split or cleft uvula. Newborns with cleft palate also have a split uvula. The bifid uvula results from failure of complete fusion of the medial nasal and maxillary processes. Bifid uvulas have less muscle in them than a normal uvula, this may cause recurring problems with middle ear infections. While swallowing, the soft palate is pushed backwards. This prevents food and drink from entering the nasal cavity; if the soft palate cannot touch the back of the throat while swallowing, food and drink can enter the nasal cavity.[7] Splitting of the uvula occurs infrequently but is the most common form of mouth and nose area cleavage among newborns (roughly 2% of infants have this bifid or split uvula). Bifid uvula occurs in about 1% of Caucasians and 10% of Native Americans.

Statistics have been presented in the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting a correlation between bifid uvula and aortic aneurysm.[8]

Traditional removal of the uvula

In some parts of Africa, including Ethiopia and Eritrea, the uvula or a section of it may be removed by a traditional healer to allegedly prevent throat infections.[9] In this case, the uvula may be noticeably shortened. It is not thought to contribute to VPI, except in cases where the tonsils have also been removed.[10]

References in pop culture

  • (1940) In the Disney film Pinocchio, inside Monstro the Whale’s mouth, we can see his uvula when he eats fish and swallows Pinocchio and Geppetto’s raft. His uvula is so tiny however. But during his mouth cam scenes, his uvula can be shown from the teeth itself as the algae continues to grow onto the inside of his mouth.
  • (1947) In the cartoon I Taw a Putty Tat, the uvula is depicted as a punching bag.
  • (1961) In the episode of The Andy Griffith Show called "Barney and the Choir", Deputy Barney Fife has learned this word while getting treatment for a sore throat, and recites a brief reference to the old Spiritual All God's Chillun Got Wings: "I got a uvula, you got a uvula, all God's chillun got a uvula!" In keeping with the reference, Andy responds, "Hallelujah!"
  • (1976) The uvula was featured in an early Saturday Night Live comedy skit starring Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, and Laraine Newman. The skit was a mock public service announcement about uvula care, featuring the tagline, "It'll behoove ya to care for your uvula."[11]
  • (April 24, 1987) It was featured in a "Far Side" cartoon by Gary Larson entitiled "Final page of the medical boards" where a person is depicted holding a question paper that reads "BONUS QUESTION: (50 points) What's the name of that thing that hangs down in the back of our throats?"
  • (1994) Bifid uvulas were featured as a part of Nickelodeon's animated series Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.
  • (1994) In Episode 55 from the classic cartoon series Animaniacs from 1993-1998, the camera zooms in and out of the inside of Dot Warner’s mouth as the volcano shoots Dot Warner and the lava out
  • (1995) American pop punk band Green Day have a song entitled "Bab's Uvula Who?" on the album Insomniac, a reference to the aforementioned Saturday Night Live sketch.
  • (1996) During the Sailor Moon Super S episode A Dentist of Terror PallaPalla’s House, Usagi Tsukino screams after she realized she had cavities as her uvula transitions to the next scene. Another episode does the same thing.
  • (1997) In Cartoon Network's series Cow and Chicken the uvula is used along with the spleen to represent an unknown human organ. While the spleen is obviously mistaken for the spine, the uvula is most likely used because of its strange name.
  • (1997) "Weird Al" Yankovic used the word uvula frequently on the Weird Al Show.
  • (1998) In the Rugrats episode "Grandpa's Bad Bug", two of the kids, Tommy and Chucky, took a toy wrench and squeezed Grandpa's uvula while he was asleep, mistaking the vibrating uvula for a "bad bug" moving around inside of his throat. His uvula becomes inflamed, and Grandpa says "It feels like a lobster's been shakin' hands with my tonsils!".
  • (1998) During the Bear in the Big Blue House song “Brush Brush Bree”, there’s a mouth being shown at the end. But the tongue pretends to be a uvula, bouncing up and down and dancing. The uvula cannot be seen. It was at the very back of the mouth itself.
  • (1998) In Full House episode It's Not My Job, Stephanie is afraid at the dentist and Joey tells her about the "courage hangy-ball" in the back of the throat. She admits she thought it was only there for decoration.
  • (2001) In Takashi Miikes Happiness of the Katakuris, a small monster runs away with a woman's uvula.
  • (2001) In "Osmosis Jones" Jones follows the deadly virus by flying out of the mouth from the uvula during a sneeze. He then returned there afterwards.
  • (2002) In Season 6 Episode 21 of Thomas and Friends, there is an animation effect for the wiggling of Alicia Botti’s uvula when she screams. The uvula is red with a tongue underneath it.
  • (2003) In the Rubbadubbers episode Doctor Terence, Terence tells Amelia to say “Ahhh” to open her mouth wide. When she opens her mouth wide, Terence looks at her red wiggling uvula with a flashlight, commonly known as a Mouth Cam
  • (2003) In the Disney/Pixar animated film Finding Nemo, Dory imitates a whale to annoy Marlin. When she does this, they go inside a whale’s mouth to escape. They go down his “uvula” which is on the very back of his mouth.
  • (2004) The Powerpuff Girls Season 6 episode Sun Scream has a red uvula inside a black mouth when the girls scream after they realized they had sun burn when they’re at the beach
  • (2005) In the Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends episode Bloo Done It, the camera zooms onto Uncle Pockets’ mouth as he sings “The best friend to exist”, and as he sings a long note, his uvula is shown; wiggling back and forth
  • (2005) In an episode of The Buzz on Maggie, Maggie shows her uvula (and tonsils) to the camera by opening her mouth really wide
  • (2006) The uvula is mistaken for a vulva as a gag in Monster House.
  • (2007) In the Wonder Pets episode "Save the Wonder Pets", the Wonder Pets themselves get eaten by a whale. They have to hold his uvula to escape his mouth immediately.
  • (2007) In the Wonder Pets episode “Save the Goldfish”, Ming Ming imitates a sucker fish by opening her mouth to say “Ahhh”. When she does this, her invisible uvula can be seen.
  • (2008) In Gears of War 2, after the Delta team is eaten by the Riftworm and the team makes it past the worm's teeth, the uvula can be seen, and is mistaken for the heart. If the player shoots it, the worm will gag causing the screen to shake for a few seconds, and in the following cutscene, Cole shoots it excessively, causing a large gag and the team to be chased by a large wall of debris, probably worm puke.
  • (2009) In a commercial for Dairy Queen, a talking pair of lips implores viewers to "look into my uvula" in an attempt to hypnotize them.
  • (2009) In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Buck, the weasel that serves as a Virgil-like figure to Manny and his herd, avoids being eaten by Rudy (the Moby Dick-like white dinosaur) by using Rudy's uvula to propel himself out of Rudy's mouth.
  • (2010) In the episode 'Can You Dig It?' of the Disney channel spinoff, The Suite Life on Deck, Zack asks Cody what the thing vibrating at the back of his throat was when he shouted to which Cody answers in exasperation "It's called an uvula".
  • (2011) During the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode Suited for Success, from the reprise of Art of the Dress, the camera zooms into the inside of Rarity’s mouth while she sings and her uvula is wiggling too
  • (2019) During the Abby Hatcher episode “Abby’s Afraid”, Doctor Anna checks Abby’s teeth by saying “Ahhh” and telling her that she needs to brush and floss her teeth twice a day. You can’t see her uvula when she says “Ahhh” like that with Bozzly and Otis.
  • (2020) In the episode 'The Daffy Dentist' of the HBO Max cartoon show Looney Tunes Cartoons, Daffy uses Porky’s uvula as a boxing fight bell

Additional images

See also

  • Uvula (disambiguation)
  • Uvula piercing
  • Tonsil
  • Epiglottis


  1. eMedicine Definition.
  2. (2000) The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  3. Finkelstein Y, Meshorer A, Talmi Y, Zohar Y, Brenner J, Gal R (1992). The riddle of the uvula.. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 107 (3): 444–50.
  4. Lehnert, Paul Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty for obstructive sleep apnea. URL accessed on 26 October 2006.
  5. [1]
  6. Swollen Uvula
  7. Split Uvula: Is It a Problem?. URL accessed on 23 September 2007.
  8. Bifid Uvula and Aortic Aneurysm. URL accessed on 12 November 2008.
  9. Ethiopian Refugees
  10. Hartley B, Rowe-Jones J (1994). Uvulectomy to prevent throat infections.. J Laryngol Otol 108 (1): 65–6.
  11. SNL Transcripts: Elliot Gould: 05/29/76: Babs' Uvula

External links

Template:Mouth anatomy

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