A uvulectomy is a surgical procedure in which all or part of the uvula is removed. The uvula is a bell-shaped organ that hangs from the top of the throat. There are a few different reasons a uvulectomy is performed, but most are controversial. This may be because the exact function of the uvula is unknown. It is believed that the uvula plays a role in speech and it also has some glandular tissue indicating that the uvula is capable of producing saliva.
While it has not been proven totally effective, perhaps the most common reason for a uvulectomy in the United States is to assist in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. A uvulectomy may be performed alone or as part of a larger procedure called a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). The purpose of both procedures is to remove tissue that may be blocking the airway.
There is another condition that a uvulectomy is sometimes used to treat called hereditary angioneurotic edema (HANE). HANE is a rare disease in which the tissues fills with water. If the tissues in and around the throat become too swollen, a person with this condition can suffocate. The idea behind removing the extra tissue of the uvula is that this frees up more space and can prevent asphyxiation.
In certain parts of Africa, uvulectomy is routinely performed for reasons not entirely understood by other cultures. Other controversial reasons for uvulectomies include treating chronic throat infections and removing abnormally long uvulas to treat chronic coughs.
Aetna. Clinical Policy Bulletin: Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults. Accessed: August 20, 2010 from http://www.aetna.com/cpb/medical/data/1_99/0004.html
Medscape Nurses. Hereditary Angioneurotic Edema Treated by Partial Uvulectomy. Accessed: August 20, 2010 from http://www.medscape.com/medline/abstract/933414
Pubmed. The Riddle of the Uvula. Accessed: August 20, 2010 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1408233