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 two days before symptoms begin until five 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 cannot 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 do not need much chewing. Avoid 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 patient has chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI 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 as advised by our staff. 

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

  • In children, unless your child's health care provider advises otherwise, call the provider right away if:

    • Your child is 3 months old or younger and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher. (Get medical care right away. Fever in a young baby can be a sign of a dangerous infection.)

    • Your child is younger than 2 years of age and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) that continues for more than 1 day.

    • Your child is 2 years old or older and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) that continues for more than 3 days.

    • Your child is of any age and has repeated fevers above 104°F (40°C).

Also call for:

  • 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

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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.