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Patient education: Parotitis (The Basics)

Patient education: Parotitis (The Basics)

What is parotitis? — Parotitis is the medical term for when the parotid gland gets inflamed or infected. The parotid gland makes saliva. It is located under the skin in front of the ear and above the jaw (figure 1). Saliva from the parotid gland flows into the mouth through a thin tube called the "parotid duct."

What causes parotitis? — Different things can cause parotitis. It is often related to infection. For example, it happens in people who have mumps, which is caused by a virus. In some other cases, parotitis is caused by a bacterial infection. This is more likely to happen in people who:

Are dehydrated, especially after surgery – Dehydration is when a person's body has lost too much water. Older people who are in the hospital after surgery are at higher risk of getting dehydrated and developing parotitis.

Have a blockage in the parotid gland or duct – A blockage can be caused by a small, hard substance called a "stone" that forms on its own. Rarely, a blockage can be caused by cancer.

Take a medicine that causes the parotid gland to make less saliva.

Certain medical conditions can also cause parotitis. For example, people with Sjögren's disease (a problem that affects the saliva glands) might be more likely to develop it.

What are the symptoms of parotitis? — Parotitis causes swelling in the parotid gland.

If the parotitis is caused by a bacterial infection, there might be other symptoms, too. That's because the bacteria cause the body to make pus that collects in or around the parotid gland. This can lead to:

Pain and redness (along with the swelling) in the area around the parotid gland

Fever or chills

Trouble opening the mouth or swallowing

Should I call the doctor or nurse? — Yes. Call your doctor or nurse if you have swelling in your jaw.

Will I need tests? — Maybe. Your doctor or nurse will ask about your symptoms and do an exam. They might also do tests, such as:

An imaging test – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body. Your doctor might do an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI scan.

Lab tests – If your doctor thinks that you might have mumps, they can take a sample of blood to be tested. Mumps is caused by a virus.

If you have a collection of pus, your doctor can take a sample of the pus. They can send it to the lab to find out what kind of bacteria is causing your infection.

Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. To help your symptoms, your doctor or nurse might recommend that you:

Put heat on the swollen area. Wet a clean washcloth with warm water, and put it on the area. When the washcloth cools, reheat it with warm water and put it back on. Repeat these steps for 10 to 15 minutes every few hours.

Drink lots of fluids.

Gently massage the swollen area.

Suck on sour or lemon-flavored hard candy.

Take an over-the-counter medicine to treat your pain.

What other treatment might I need? — Other treatment depends on what is causing the parotitis. Parotitis caused by a virus, or not related to an infection at all, doesn't usually need other treatment. The swelling will get better on its own.

If you have parotitis caused by bacteria, you will get antibiotic medicines. These medicines go into your vein through a thin tube, called an "IV." Once you are getting better, you might be switched to antibiotic pills. If you have severe pain, your doctor can prescribe a strong pain medicine. If you have a collection of pus that doesn't get better with antibiotics, your doctor might do surgery to drain the pus.

Can parotitis be prevented? — Yes, in some cases. A vaccine called the "MMR" vaccine can help prevent parotitis. (Vaccines can prevent certain serious or deadly infections.) The MMR vaccine prevents infection with the mumps virus.

Doctors recommend that all children get the MMR vaccine as part of their routine childhood vaccines.

More on this topic

Patient education: Vaccines for babies and children age 0 to 6 years (The Basics)
Patient education: Mumps (The Basics)

Patient education: Vaccines for infants and children age 0 to 6 years (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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