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A uvulectomy is a procedure in which the uvula is removed from the back of the throat. It is a relatively simple procedure, often used to treat patients who snore excessively. Although the procedure does not pose many risks, it does alter the the inside of the patient's mouth permanently. For the most part, patients do not miss the presence of the uvula. In some patients, however, the procedure can prevent a person from making certain sounds and can also eliminate the gag reflex.
Most people choose to get a uvulectomy as a cosmetic surgery to relieve snoring. In many cases, this simple procedure completely cures a person of snoring, and in most other cases, it diminishes snoring considerably. As many as 85% of patients with a severe snoring problem can benefit from the procedeure. In the other 15% of patients, however, the surgery does not provide substantial relief from the condition.
One other possible benefit of a uvulectomy is that the procedure may be able to lessen the symptoms of sleep apnea. Patients with this condition have difficulty breathing while asleep, in some cases because of the presence of too much tissue in the back of the throat. The removal of the uvula and some of the tissue on the soft palate can open up the breathing passageway. A uvulectomy is not considered a cure for sleep apnea, though it can relieve some of the symptoms in certain patients.
Following a uvulectomy, a patient may be unable to make some sounds. Though guttural sounds, which the uvula plays a significant role in producing, are not a component of all languages, including English, some languages utilize these sounds extensively. It may be possible to retrain the mouth to compensate for the loss of the uvula, but a native speaker of languages such as French, Turkish, or the Khoisan languages may have trouble saying certain words after the uvula is removed.
The uvula also plays an important role in the gag reflex. A patient who has undergone a uvulectomy may have difficulty expelling foreign matter from the throat because the uvula, the body’s first defense against choking, is no longer present. Additionally, food or fluids may be more likely to enter the nasal cavity.