What Does a Bifid Uvula Mean?
The palatine uvula is the little piece of flesh which dangles down the back of the throat between the tonsils. Most of them resemble a little punching bag or a flesh colored bunch of grapes (this being where the name comes from as uvula means "little grape" in Latin). However, you may every once in a while see a uvula which hangs down in two little parts rather than the one teardrop shape. This is known as a bifid uvula or a bifurcated uvula, the descriptive words both meaning that it has at some point been divided in two. While not many are born with them, only around 2% of the population, they can occur thanks to an accident or cosmetic reasons. If you have one, what does a bifid uvula mean? Let oneHOWTO show you below.
What does the uvula do?
While almost everybody has one, the purpose behind the uvula is still somewhat theoretical. There are some characteristics which are indisputable, however. There are racemose glands which produce a thin type of saliva. While we have other salivary glands at the front and sides of the buccal cavity (otherwise known as the mouth), this thin saliva seems to be more important to the throat. It lubricates the throat and helps us to swallow. It might also be important in terms of gag reflex as it will secrete more of this thin saliva when pressure is exerted on it.
The uvula is a characteristic almost unique to humans. There are some animals more closely related to us like baboons who sometimes have this trait also. Because of this differentiation between us and most other mammals, it indicates that we have one for a unique reason. One unique aspect to being a human being is our ability to communicate through speech. There may be some videos of dogs on the internet saying "hello", but it is a mere imitation. This leads many to believe that the uvula is in some way an aid to speech.
This is evident in particular global languages. In French, Arabic and other languages there is rolled "R" sound which not everyone is capable of. What has been suggested by some studies is that the uvula bounces off the back of the tongue and aids in our ability to make this particular sound. It is also present in certain accents within a single language.
The uvula also has a theoretical relation to immunology. There are cells in the uvula which are mucosal tolerant. This means when some microbial pathogens and antigens are breathed in, the uvula can act as a barrier. In this way it protects the rest of the body from potential infection and disease. The extent to which this is effective is disputable.
What is different about a bifid uvula?
The main difference between a regular palatine uvula and a bifid or bifurcated uvula is appearance. Instead of the one dangling part, a bifid uvula has two little prongs on either side. The reason it is split is most likely due to our development.
Those with a cleft lip or palate have them because their body made an error when forming. As our facial tissues develop, they bridge together from two sides where they eventually meet in the middle. If you have a cleft palate, the formation did not complete properly leaving a break between the two sides. This can result in varying sizes and shapes. On the lower end is a bifid uvula, where even when the palate and lips have formed properly, there was a little break in the forming of the uvula. This results in the split of the uvula. When the palate doesn't form at all, it may result in a bilateral complete cleft.
The causes of cleft palates and bifurcated uvulas may be the same, but what they exactly are is unknown. Research suggests there are certain risk factors such as later life pregnancies, smoking during pregnancy, diabetes and obesity. Cleft palates can be fixed with surgery, but there is little cause to surgically fix a bifid uvula.
Another way a bifid uvula may have occurred is due to trauma. This could be from damage occurred during a medical procedure (although the likelihood for this is minimal) or from something sharp entering the mouth. A very uncommon, but still practiced type of body modification is piercing the uvula. As with any other body piercing, the body can reject it forcing the ring to come out and splitting the uvula as it does so. This is a particularly risky body piercing as it can fall down into the throat and cause choking. Removal may require surgery. Even if the piercing was to stay in, it could contribute to breathing problems or even sleep apnea.
What concerns may a bifid uvula provide?
Firstly, it should be said that most people with a bifud uvula will have the same quality of life as someone with a single palatine uvula. However, there are certain circumstances where having a bifid or bifurcated uvula can cause complications.
The major potential complication of a bifid uvula is more to do with palate formation as the bifurcated uvula might imply there is an underlying condition, quite literally. A bifid uvula can suggest that even if a cleft palate is not visible, then there could still be a submucous cleft palate. This means the palate did not form completely, but tissue did form over it, thereby hiding the cleft underneath the formed tissue. This can result in a predisposition to ear infections, speech impairments and possibly cause difficulty swallowing. This may result in some regurgitation during feeding.
If someone has a bifid uvula with a hidden cleft underneath, this may not present any symptoms during quotidian life. However, if someone in this position requires surgery, particularly if they need a general anaesthetic, then complications may arise. Certain conditions may be linked to those with a bifid uvula. One of the most concerning is a link between this condition and aortic aneurysms.
An aneurysm is when a build up of blood occurs in a blood vessel or artery. They can have no general effect on a person, but, if ruptured, can lead to massive internal bleeding and death. Some studies have shown a link between predisposition to aortic aneurysms and bifurcated uvulas. This is because the same lack of cohesion during development which happens to the uvula can also occur in the aorta. This can weaken the individual and can lead to more concerning problems when under the knife. At the same time, it may not have much bearing on the person at all.
Bifid uvula at birth
Detecting a bifid uvula at birth is not a common occurrence. This is because the child is still developing and even if they were to have one at birth, it may grow into a regular uvula after time. The concern with a bifid uvula in infants is more to do with the potential presence of an underlying condition. This may be a benign one which has little or no impact on the child's development into adulthood.
However, there are certain conditions which may be flagged by a bifid uvula. One such condition is Cornelia de Lange syndrome, a genetic disorder which can have serious physical and intellectual problems during development. Another is Loeys-Dietz syndrome which can also have significant impact on both development and life expectancy.
There has also been reported a link (Vorstman et al, A Bifid Uvula in a Patient with Schizophrenia as a Sign of 22q11 Deletion Syndrome, NTvG: 2002) between a bifid uvula and mental health complications. it may be linked to chromosomal issues with a potentially increased risk of mental retardation and even schizophrenia. However, these may also be complications due to malformation and having a bifid uvula does not necessarily mean a person has any of these conditions.
If you have a bifid uvula and are reading this as an adult, it is unlikely there are any underlying issues. If there are any negative symptoms it usually involves mild speech impediments or nasal congestion. Still, it is wise to see a doctor for diagnosis if you have one and it has not been taken into consideration by any medical practitioner you may have previously visited.
This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.
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