Have you ever wondered exactly what that fleshy extension at the back of your palate, hanging just above the throat is? What is the purpose of that dangly thing at back of throat? Keep reading to find answers to all your questions about that fleshy hanging structure.
What Is the Dangly Thing at Back of Throat?
That dangly thing at the back of your throat is the uvula or the palatine uvula. It is a conic project located in the middle of the soft palate at the back of your throat. This dangly structure is composed of several connective tissue and has several racemose glands as well as muscular fibers.
The uvula has a muscle inside it, known as the musculus uvulae, which helps the uvula change its length and width. It also helps change the contour of the posterior part of the soft palate. The change is necessary to let the soft palate to adapt as per the situation to close the nasopharynx while swallowing.
The uvula has 3 functions:
- When swallowing, uvula blocks the passage to nasal cavity to make sure that foods and drinks can't get into it.
- Uvula helps with speaking.
- Although this is not intended or a major function, it participates in snoring. Vibrating vigorous, uvula is partially responsible for that sough sound you make during sleeping.
There can be some variations of uvula, like a split or cleft uvula. For example, a newborn with a cleft palate may have a split uvula. This situation is also called bifurcated or bifid uvula, which is the outcome of incomplete combination of the palatine shelves. It contains less muscle as compared to a normal uvula, which is why you are more susceptible to recurrent middle ear infections when you have a bifid uvula. It is important that the uvula bends backward and touches the back of the throat when you eat something to prevent food from entering your nasal cavity.
Problems Related to That Dangly Thing at Back of Throat
Now that you know that dangly thing at the back of your throat is uvula, you may also want to learn more about certain problems associated with it.
The condition refers to the swelling of the uvula, which can make the flap 5 times bigger than its normal size. The swelling may happen due to dehydration, inhaled irritants, excessive smoking, allergic reactions, snoring and bacterial/viral infections. With the swelling of the mucous membrane around it, the uvula will start touching the tongue, causing problems like gagging or choking. Serious swelling may also cause problems in eating, breathing and talking.
2. Bifid Uvula
As mentioned already, it refers to a split uvula that doesn't have enough muscle in it to expand when needed. You will experience issues related to the nasal cavity, like middle ear infection, when bifid uvula fails to push the soft palate backwards while swallowing food.
That dangly thing at back of throat has close relations with snoring. Actually, you may snore because of other issues like weak muscles, sleep apnea, etc., which will also affect your uvula. On the other hand, your snoring problem may well be because you have an elongated uvula.
4. Velopharyngeal Insufficiency
It refers to a condition in which your uvula fails to close properly against the back of your throat. This will make you speak from your nose with a large amount of extra air coming out of the nose, especially when you try to pronounce consonants like "b", "g", "p", etc.
5. Nasal Regurgitation
The soft palate and the uvula must close the nasopharynx to keep food from entering your nasal cavity when swallowing, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, the uvula fails to close the nasopharynx, leading to a condition called nasal regurgitation. You are more likely to suffer from this condition if you already have Myositides, neuromuscular disorders and VPI.
6. Sleep Apnea
If your uvula is longer than normal, you may end up dealing with sleep apnea. The situation becomes even complicated when scar tissue forms and decreases the space in the velopharynx. In this situation, you may have to remove the uvula through a surgical procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP).
How to Soothe Uvula Discomforts?
If that dangly thing at back of throat is causing problems, it is important to look for a good treatment option. Here are some ways of correcting the issue and bringing the uvula back to its normal state.
- Gargle with warm water to moisten the uvula. This will rejuvenate it and help soothe any issues. Avoid excessively hot water or you will end up burning the uvula.
- Your healthcare provider may ask you to have some ice cream to resolve issues with your uvula. You may even get good results by drinking cool drinks. Doing this will soothe your chafed uvula. Try this only if you are not prone to cough, cold or fever symptoms.
- You can soothe your irritated throat and uvula with cough lozenges. These lozenges keep it from becoming dry, which in turn prevents further aggravation.
- You should stop eating certain foods when your uvula is swollen or irritated. The list includes food containing a lot of carbs and fats such as fried meal, pasta, poultry, rice, potato, etc.
- You should add more vegetables and fresh fruits to your daily routine. Just be sure to avoid anything that is high in salt.
- You should stop drinking alcohol if you want your uvula to return to its normal state because alcohol promotes dryness that will irritate the uvula.