Hey, what's that? You know…that thing hanging down at the back of your throat! If you have no idea what we're talking about, go take a look in the mirror and remember to open wide!
If you do know what we're talking about, then you've probably WONDERed at some point in the past about what that dangly thing at the back of your throat is called. More important, what does it do?
Although it's fun to call it “that dangly thing at the back of your throat," that tiny piece of skin tissue does have a name. It's official, scientific name is the palatine uvula, but most people simply call it the uvula.
Your uvula is one of the weirdest features on your body. Not only does it look strange hanging there in the back of your throat, scientists continue to puzzle over exactly what it does and why it's there in the first place.
Over the years, many scientists have studied the uvula. They've also come up with many interesting theories about its history and purpose. Here are a few of the things scientists have hypothesized about the uvula over time:
- that it helped to guide the flow of food and water down the throat
- that it induces the gag reflex
- that it causes chronic coughing
- that it causes health problems, like sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep apnea, as well as snoring
Although these several theories haven't totally panned out over the years, scientists continue to research the uvula, many out of a sense of pure curiosity. Some recent studies have revealed further information about the uvula and its function by studying people who don't have uvulas.
Some doctors still treat patients with sleep apnea by removing the uvula in a process known as an uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. These patients without uvulas were then studied, and researchers learned that the uvula is apparently really good at excreting a lot of saliva in a short amount of time.
Further research of the uvula and its saliva-producing capabilities has led some scientists to believe that the uvula's primary purpose is an accessory to speech. If you've ever had trouble speaking when your mouth was dry, you know that proper lubrication is required for complex human speech.
Many scientists now believe that the uvula provides that lubrication in the form of saliva, thereby helping the overall process of human speech. For now, that's all we know about the uvula. Perhaps future scientists will uncover even more interesting information about the uvula!