Why do I have a uvula?

Leslie Gartner lgartner at umabnet.ab.umd.edu
Fri Feb 2 00:05:32 EST 1996

On 29 Jan 1996, Bob Webster wrote:

> Does anyone know what the uvula is used for?

The uvula functions in sealing off the nasal pharynx from the oral 
pharynx during the act of deglutition.

In plane English: as you swallow the soft palate, whose posteriormost 
extension is the uvula, elevates and the uvula presses against the 'back 
of your throat.' As that happens, the opening between the nasal 
cavity and the back of the throat is blocked, and the food or liquid 
cannot enter the nasal cavity. A simple experiment: 1. close your mouth and 
breath through your nose; air enters your lungs. 2. Open your mouth and 
breath through mouth; air enters your lungs. So, now you know that there 
must be communication between your nasal and oral cavities. 3. Collect 
saliva in your mouth; close your lips, swallow, and at the same time try 
to breath through your nose. Air will go into your lungs ONLY after you 
finished swallowing. 

Now, imagine that you are drinking milk (or anything else) and as you're 
swallowing the white stuff, someone cracks a joke and you start to laufg. 
As you do so, milk may back up into your nasal cavity and come out your 
nostrils. Disgusting, but funny to a certain extent.

Do you "need" a uvula? No people can live very happily without uvulas and 
learn to control the swallowing process so that food (or fluid) will not 
enter their nasal cavity.

Sorry for being long winded, but I hope this helped.

Les Gartner

lgartner at umabnet.ab.umd.edu

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