SciShow

Watch: What does your uvula do?

Besides look gross, we mean. 

BEC CREW
4 DEC 2015
 

Alright, so that weird, dangling thing at the back of your throat that was literally named after a bunch of grapes... what is that? Well, you'll be pleased to know that it exists not just to gross you out if you happen to see your own somehow, or a friend sends you pictures of uvulas because they're into that kind of thing. Uvulas are actually infinitely useful to us humans, because they play a role in our swallowing, speech, and saliva production. They also play a key role in whether or not we snore, so read on if you want to tackle that particular life challenge.

 

As the latest episode of SciShow explains, uvulas are part of what makes humans so unique. Out of all the mammals on Earth, it's just us and some species of baboons that have them, so go ahead and pat yourself on the uvula (don't).

The uvula is the little fleshy part that hangs down from the soft palate of your mouth, and one of its purposes is to stop food from going up your nose when you swallow. Just like a tiny, disgusting doggy door, it swings up and down, blocking the path to your nose as the food races past, funnelling it down into your oesophagus.

To help this process along, the soft palate produces a thick saliva to keep everything slippery, but the uvula also makes its own brand of spit, says Hank Green in the video above:

 "The inside of the uvula is packed full of glands that can quickly make large amounts of thin, watery saliva. These glands are connected to muscle fibres that run through the uvula, and when those muscles contract - for example, while you're speaking or swallowing - more saliva is released."

Which is where that weird, bunch of grapes/wrecking ball shape comes into play. Because the uvula's shape allows it to swing around a lot, this means all that extra saliva can be spread around the throat more easily when you're chatting or eating. Which gives you a bit of hint as to why we're we're basically the only animals that have them - they facilitate complex speech and allow us to make unique noises such as rolling your "r"s.  

If you're not convinced by how awesome your uvula is now, we should also mention that it wards off infection and disease by blocking pathogens off from your throat. 

But alas, our uvulas aren't perfect, and can sometimes succumb to infections themselves, or cause life-threatening sleep apnea. Why? We'll let Hank explain in the SciShow episode above, if only to make you suffer through the same thing we just had to. It's difficult to talk about, but let's just leave it at "uvula ring", shall we?

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