Salivary Gland Swelling, Uncertain Cause

Salivary glands make saliva in response to food in your mouth. Saliva is mostly water. It also has minerals and proteins that help break down food and keep the mouth and teeth healthy. There are 3 pairs of salivary glands:

  • Parotid glands. In front of the ear.

  • Submandibular glands. Below the jaw.

  • Sublingual glands. Below the tongue.

Each gland has a tube (duct) that carries saliva from the gland into the mouth. 

The salivary glands can sometimes get swollen. Causes can include:

  • Viral infection (such as childhood mumps)

  • Bacterial infections

  • Sjögren syndrome

  • Diabetes

  • Malnutrition

  • Sarcoidosis

  • Blocked salivary duct (from stones or tumors)

Certain medicines can affect salivary flow. This can lead to swollen glands. Tell your healthcare provider about all of the medicines you take.

Tests are being done to find the cause of the swelling. These may include blood tests, X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, or injecting dye into the duct to look for blockage. Treatment depends on the exact cause of the swelling.

Home care

  • If the area is painful, you can take over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, unless you were prescribed another medicine. Wetting a cloth with warm water and putting it over the affected gland for 10 to 15 minutes at a time can also help ease pain.

  • To help prevent blockages and infections:

    • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid per day (such as water, tea, and clear soup) to keep well-hydrated.

    • If you smoke, ask your healthcare provider for help to quit. Smoking makes salivary gland stones more likely.

    • Maintain good dental hygiene. Brush and floss your teeth daily. See your dentist for regular cleanings.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. See your healthcare provider for further exams and testing. If you have been referred to a specialist, make an appointment right away.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • More pain or swelling in the gland

  • Inability to open mouth or pain when opening mouth

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Redness over the gland

  • Fluid (pus) draining into the mouth

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Any new symptoms

Prevention

Here are steps you can take to help prevent an infection:

  • Keep good handwashing habits.

  • Don’t have close contact with people who have sore throats, colds, or other upper respiratory infections.

  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from secondhand smoke.

  • Stay up to date with of your vaccines.

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