Mumps is a viral infection that primarily affects the parotid glands — one of three pairs of saliva-producing (salivary) glands, situated below and in front of your ears. If you or your child contracts mumps, it can cause swelling in one or both parotid glands.
Mumps was common in the United States until mumps vaccination became routine. Since then, the number of cases has dropped dramatically, so your odds of getting mumps are low. Complications of mumps, such as hearing loss, are potentially serious, but rare.
There’s no specific treatment for mumps. Mumps outbreaks still occur in the United States, and mumps is still common in many parts of the world, so getting a vaccination to prevent mumps remains important.
The cause of mumps is the mumps virus, which spreads easily from person to person through infected saliva. If you’re not immune, you can contract mumps by breathing in saliva droplets of an infected person who has just sneezed or coughed. You can also contract mumps from sharing utensils or cups with someone who has mumps.
Some people infected with the mumps virus have either no signs or symptoms or very mild ones. When signs and symptoms do develop, they usually appear about two to three weeks after exposure to the virus and may include:
- Swollen, painful salivary glands on one or both sides of your face (parotitis)
- Weakness and fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Pain while chewing or swallowing
The primary — and best known — sign of mumps is swollen salivary glands that cause the cheeks to puff out. In fact, the term “mumps” is an old expression for lumps or bumps within the cheeks.
When to see a doctor
If you suspect that you or your child has mumps, see your doctor. Let your doctor’s office know before you go in that you suspect mumps so that you won’t have to wait so long in the waiting room, possibly infecting others. Mumps has become an uncommon illness, so it’s possible that the signs and symptoms are caused by another condition. Swollen salivary glands and a fever could be an indication of inflamed tonsils (tonsillitis) or a blocked salivary gland.
Other viruses can infect the parotid glands, causing a mumps-like illness.