Mumps is a viral illness that infects the salivary glands. These glands produce saliva in the mouth. The main salivary gland (parotid gland) is located at the angle of the jaw, just below the ear, on each side of the face. During a mumps infection these glands become swollen and tender. The ears may hurt although there is no ear infection. There may also be a rash.

Mumps most often occurs in children 5 to 14 years. It can also affect adolescents, young adults, and adults. Mumps causes a low-grade fever, headache and loss of appetite. Usually, both parotid glands swell and cause puffy cheeks. Swelling and pain in these glands increases over 1 to 3 days. It may hurt to swallow, talk, chew or drink acidic juices. (Acid foods stimulate the parotid gland to produce saliva).

In rare cases, mumps can involve the brain (causing encephalitis), and the lining of the spinal cord (causing meningitis). Adolescents and young men with a case of mumps may develop orchitis, a painful swelling of the testicles. Young women may develop mumps infection in the ovary. This causes pain in the abdomen.

A child or adult with mumps is contagious 2 days before symptoms begin until 5 days after the symptoms disappear. The virus spreads through the air by coughing and sneezing, or by direct contact (touching the sick person and then touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth). It takes about 2 to 3 weeks to develop the infection after an exposure. It takes 10 to 12 days to recover.

Treatment is aimed at symptom relief only. Since a virus causes mumps, it can't be treated with antibiotics.

Home care

To treat mumps symptoms:

  • Hot or cold packs applied to the cheeks may give relief. Apply an ice pack (ice cubes in a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel) over the injured area for 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours as needed. When using heat, apply a towel soaked in warm water and placed inside a plastic bag. Special hot-cold gel packs can be frozen or warmed in a microwave. Wrap the pack in a thin cloth to protect the skin.

  • Have the child drink plenty of fluids. Give soft foods that don't need much chewing. Don't drink acidic fruit juices (orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemonade).

  • Give over-the-counter medicine as directed to control pain and fever, unless another medicine was prescribed. If the person has chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with the healthcare provider before using these medicines. Aspirin should never be given to anyone under 18 years of age who is ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage.

  • For testicle pain, support from snug briefs and ice packs may help.

Returning to work or school:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children stay out of school or childcare until 9 days after the gland swelling began. 

  • A teen or adult with mumps should not go back to school or work for 5 days after the gland swelling began. 

Follow-up care

Follow up with the healthcare provider, or as advised.

Any person who comes in contact with the infected person who has not received the MMR vaccine should talk to his or her healthcare provider right away about vaccination.

Mumps increases the risk of miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy. Therefore, a pregnant woman who has been exposed to mumps should contact her healthcare provider right away.

When to seek medical advice

Call the healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • In adults, fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Fever in children (see Fever and children, below)

  • Stiff neck, severe headache, convulsions (seizures), extreme drowsiness, or changes in alertness.

  • Testicle pain

  • Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain

  • Hearing loss in one or both ears

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

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