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Uvula

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Excuse my ignorance, I'm starting my adventure into pre-med next year, so this is my run-up to ensure my knowledge base is solid (meaning there will be more questions of this nature). =p

 

 

 

Okay, so I understand the uvula has a function similar to that of the epiglottis (sp?) in closing access to airways during swallowing (whereas the epiglottis restricts access to the trachea, the uvula prevents food particles from traveling UPWARDS into nasal cavities). Is this correct?

 

I was also wondering about the gag-reflex.

Obviously coughing is a mechanism to remove foreign particles from the lungs and trachea, and sneezing removes them from the nasal cavities, but what function does gagging have?

 

And why does the uvula have a touch sensitivity which results in the triggering of a gag reflex and possible expulsion of matter from the esophagus or stomach? In other words, what purpose does the sensitivity of the uvula serve?

 

(also, does the uvula serve any other purposes? [excluding vocal manipulation] )

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The uvula's sensitivity (*EDIT: actually, read my subsequent reply, I don't think it's the uvula itself that is sensitive and causes the reflex, but the surrounding tissue, so it seems the uvula is just pressed into the surrounding sensitive tissue and causes the gag reflex) and gag reflex are a defensive measure to help prevent choking or swallowing something we aren't supposed to (i.e. if something goes down your throat that you didn't voluntarily swallow, you will have this gag reflex, and may even end up throwing up or vomiting if you irritate the uvula too much). I guess it can be compared to sneezing and coughing (if your nose is irritated by some foreign particle, or there is something in your lungs/ airways, you would cough or sneeze to expel it). It is also called the pharyngeal reflex, for a more technical term. If you wan't to find out more you could always do a quick google search, there are hundreds of pages that describe this in more detail than I did.

 

From what I know, there are only 3 main functions the uvula serves: gag reflex, speech formation, and to prevent food from entering your nasal cavity.

Edited by Twinbird24

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You also do not need the uvula. It is sometimes removed as a treatment for snoring.

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Many people, including doctors, think the uvula is vestigial and can be removed with uvulectomy. However, this has side effects. From this website:

"...side effect associated with uvula removal is nasal regurgitation, which is caused by the food entering the nasal cavity. Even the patient's voice may change permanently, once he/she undergoes this surgery. Some people experience drainage into the nasal cavity. Even sleep disturbances can be caused by uvula removal [...] In short, uvula removal is generally not done, if the condition of the patient can be treated with other methods."

 

Apparently, uvulectomy can also mess up your sense of taste.

 

BTW, it is possible to live without a uvula.

 

And just wan't to add one more thing, the uvula itself doesn't cause the gag reflex, but the surrounding tissue, or so I've read (this can be tested by poking your uvula directly with something like a cotton swab, although I haven't actually tried this).

Edited by Twinbird24

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Okay, this is going to sound disgustingly ignorant of me, but what is the uvula, and if I open my mouth wide, will I be able to see it somewhere back there? The epiglotis is the thing that hangs down at the back of your throat, right?

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Okay, this is going to sound disgustingly ignorant of me, but what is the uvula, and if I open my mouth wide, will I be able to see it somewhere back there? The epiglotis is the thing that hangs down at the back of your throat, right?

No, the uvula hangs down.

 

The epiglottis is a flap of elastic cartilage tissue covered with a mucus membrane, attached to the entrance of the larynx. It projects obliquely upwards behind the tongue and the hyoid bone, pointing dorsally. The term, like tonsils, is often incorrectly used to refer to the uvula.[2] There are taste buds on the epiglottis.[3]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiglottis

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