Mumps – Causes, Diagnostic and Treatments

Mumps is a viral disorder that causes painful swelling of the salivary glands in the neck and jaw. The causative paramyxovirus is highly contagious and easily spread in droplets expelled into the air by sneezing, coughing, even breathing, or by sharing a drinking glass, food utensils, or other items that have come in contact with the saliva of an infected person. Typically, a low-grade fever, chills, loss of appetite, sore throat, and general malaise begin about 18 days after exposure to the paramyxovirus. Within a day or so, the parotid salivary gland, located between the ear and jaw, begins to swell, first on one side, and then usually on the other as well. The fever subsides in about a week, but the parotid swelling may persist for a few more days. As long as the glands are swollen, chewing and swallowing will be painful, especially when eating acidic foods such as citrus fruits. About one third of affected males who have completed puberty also develop inflamed and swollen testicles, a complication that sometimes results in sterility. Rare complications that may occur at any age in both sexes include deafness (if the auditory nerve becomes damaged), meningitis, encephalitis, arthritis, pancreatitis, heart inflammation, and blood disorders . Until the 1970s, mumps was an extremely common childhood disease. This began to change with the introduction of an effective mumps vaccine in 1967. By 1977, use of the vaccine had become widespread throughout the United States and the disease had entered the category of rare. Sporadic cases still occur, however, among children and adults who have not been immunized or those exposed to the virus before they are old enough to be vaccinated. In addition, the vaccine fails to confer immunity in about 5 percent of those who receive it.


Other Causes of Neck Swelling

Many infectious diseases can trigger swelling of the lymph glands in the neck, but the swelling is rarely as marked as that seen in mumps. Other conditions in which the parotid gland may be swollen include severe malnutrition, liver or kidney disease, and cystic fibrosis.

Diagnostic Tests And Procedures

Mumps usually can be diagnosed by reviewing the symptoms and noting the swollen salivary glands. In some cases, a blood test may be ordered to detect antibodies to the virus.

Medical Treatments

There are no drugs that can shorten the course of mumps, so treatment is aimed at alleviating symptoms. The disease usually can be treated at home, although the patient should be isolated from anyone who may lack immunity until all neck swelling and other signs of the illness have totally disappeared.   Acetaminophen can be given to ease discomfort, but aspirin should be avoided if the patient is under the age of 18 because of an increased risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious disease that affects the liver and brain. In some cases, a stronger prescription painkiller such as codeine may be needed, and corticosteroids might be prescribed to reduce severe swelling. Parents should be alert to symptoms of serious complications, and seek immediate medical attention if any develop. A fever higher than 103°F , severe or persistent vomiting, inflamed or swollen testicles, unusual lethargy, ringing in the ears, and a severe headache accompanied by neck stiffness and pain are among the signs of possible complications requiring prompt medical treatment.

Alternative Therapies

Herbal Medicine

Echinacea tea is said to reduce swelling of the salivary glands.


Warm or cold compresses on the swollen neck may make a youngster feel more comfortable. Try both to see which works best. A cool sponge bath can lower a fever. Sponge with plain water instead of rubbing alcohol, which gives off potentially irritating fumes. Nutrition Therapy. Sucking on zinc lozenges, which are sold at health food stores, may aid healing.

Self Treatment

Whether or not the child should stay in bed depends upon the severity of symptoms. Anyone who has a mild case does not necessarily need bed rest, but should be encouraged to rest often, and engage in quiet activities such as reading, listening to music, and playing word or board games. Encourage the child to drink extra fluids and offer broth, soups, and soft, bland foods that are easy to swallow. Mashed banana, scrambled eggs, puddings, frozen yogurt, and fruit-flavored gelatin are good choices. Avoid orange juice or other sour or acidic foods, which stimulate the flow of saliva and worsen pain. Males who develop swollen and painful testes require complete bed rest. Ice packs should be applied to the scrotum.