What Is It?
When To Call a Professional
What Is It?
Parotitis is an inflammation of the parotid glands. These are two large
salivary glands. You have one in front of and just below each ear.
Either one or both parotid glands can be inflamed. They can be inflamed
for several reasons, including:
Bacterial infection —This is more common in older
people. Older people often take medicines that cause dry mouth.
They also are more likely to be dehydrated. When your flow of
saliva is reduced, bacteria can collect and grow in the tube
that takes saliva from the parotid gland to the mouth.
A salivary stone in the parotid glands — The stone
blocks the flow of saliva. This can lead to a swollen gland and
sometimes an infection.
Mucus plugs — The parotid glands make saliva with
mucus. When the mouth is dry, the mucus thickens and can block
or slow the flow of saliva, causing parotitis.
Sjögren's syndrome — This is a lifelong disease
that affects the salivary glands and the eyes.
Viral infections — Mumps used to be the most
common viral infection of the parotid glands. However, it is
rare today because of vaccinations.
AIDS — About 5 of every 100 people with HIV/AIDS
have parotid gland problems.
A tumor — A tumor can block the flow of saliva and
lead to parotitis. Usually, these tumors are not cancerous.
Certain medical conditions — Some conditions, such
as diabetes, alcoholism and bulimia, can cause problems with
the parotid glands. But they usually do not cause infection.
When air gets into the ducts of the parotid gland, it's called
pneumoparotitis. This condition may or may not include inflammation. It
most commonly occurs in wind instrument players, glass blowers and
The symptoms depend on the cause of the parotitis. Symptoms can include
swelling, pain, bad taste and dry mouth.
If the gland is tender and sore and the skin over it is red and warm,
the gland is probably infected. Your doctor may remove fluid from the
gland and send it to be tested. This can determine what caused the
If you have mumps, your doctor can diagnose it based on your symptoms
and medical history. Sometimes blood tests are helpful.
Your doctor may take an X-ray if he or she thinks you have a salivary
stone. In some cases, a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI) scan also may help.
Bacterial parotitis usually responds to antibiotics in a few days. But
don't stop taking the medicine just because you feel better. Take it
for as long as your doctor has ordered, usually one to two weeks. If
you stop the medicine too soon, the infection may not be cured and may
Mumps disappears on its own in about 10 days. Parotitis related to
HIV/AIDS or Sjögren's syndrome can be managed, but it may never
disappear. Parotitis related to other conditions (such as alcoholism or
bulimia) may get better if the condition is brought under control.
Parotitis from a salivary stone or tumor should get better after the
stone or tumor is taken out.
Some people may be more likely to form salivary stones or mucus plugs.
You can prevent stones and plugs by drinking plenty of fluids. You also
can make more saliva by sucking on sour, sugarless candies. (Eating a
large number of sugarless candies can cause diarrhea.) Your physician
or dentist can show you how to massage your parotid glands to keep
If you have a bacterial infection, you most likely will be given
If you have mumps, treatment is not necessary. The condition will go
away on its own. You should avoid contact with other people (stay
isolated) for 7 to 10 days from when you first get mumps so other
people do not get infected.
Small salivary stones can be taken out with a probe. You may need
surgery to remove larger stones. Some stones can be flushed out or
pulled out with tweezers. Some people have many salivary stones. They
may need to have a parotid gland removed to solve the problem.
Sometimes, mucus plugs can be washed away by making more saliva. To do
this, drink plenty of liquids and suck on sour, sugarless candies.
Sometimes massaging the gland can help.
People with Sjögren's syndrome can take medicines to increase the amount
of saliva they have. One medicine is called pilocarpine (Salagen).
In people with AIDS-related parotitis, anti-HIV and other medicines may
When To Call a Professional
Call your doctor or dentist if you have enlarged or painful parotid
In the long term, most cases of parotitis go away and don't return.
Parotitis that is linked to another medical condition (such as HIV/AIDS
or Sjögren's syndrome) may not go away completely. It also may go away,
but keep coming back.