The uvula is the elongated hanging structure visible at the back of the throat. It is sometimes called the hanging ball in the throat and is suspended above the tongue.
The roof of the mouth is divided into two sections – the hard palate at the front and the soft palate at the back. The uvula hangs from the middle of the soft palate and lies a short distance above the back of the tongue.
It is composed of mucus membranes, connective tissue and muscle and it is flexible to ensure that it can fulfil its functions.
Sometimes, the uvula may be naturally elongated, short (stump) or divided into two lobes (bifid or cleft uvula).
The uvula has two main functions :
- It blocks the passage into the nasal cavity when swallowing. This ensures that foods or fluids do not enter the nasal passages.
- It plays a role in articulation – assisting with the speech
The uvula also plays a part in snoring although this is not an intended function. It vibrates vigorously in those that snore and is partly responsible for the rough sound during snoring.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on January 2, 2010