Parotitis is a term used to describe parotid gland swelling. Your parotid glands are salivary glands located between your jaw and ear. Parotitis causes include viral and bacterial infections, salivary gland stones and dental problems. Treatments include antivirals, antibiotics, heat application and massage.
Parotid gland swelling is often associated with mumps (which is sometimes called viral parotitis). But parotitis can be a symptom of numerous other conditions, including salivary gland stones, autoimmune diseases, dental problems and viral and bacterial infections. The condition may be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).
Parotitis can affect people of all ages, especially because parotid gland swelling is a symptom of many underlying conditions, including the flu, HIV, staph infections and COVID-19. Parotitis affects people of all races equally.
Viral acute parotitis (mumps) is most common in children, though its occurrence has decreased since the invention of the MMR vaccine.
A person with parotitis develops severe swelling on the side of their face. In most cases, the swelling occurs on both sides (bilateral). But some people only develop a swollen parotid gland on one side (unilateral).
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Symptoms of a swollen parotid gland can vary depending on the underlying condition. Some of the most common parotitis symptoms include:
Most people with acute parotitis have extremely tender parotid glands. Those with chronic parotitis usually don’t have much pain or discomfort.
There are many reasons why a person’s parotid gland might swell, though the risk factors aren’t always clear. Parotid gland swelling may be associated with:
Many different viruses can cause parotid gland swelling. But the most common is MuV — the virus that causes mumps. Other viruses include herpes, HIV, Epstein-Barr and COVID-19.
When parotitis is the result of a viral or bacterial infection, it can easily be spread to others through saliva (spit) droplets. If you have infectious parotitis, don’t share personal items such as towels, eating utensils or cups. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions thoroughly and take all medications exactly as prescribed.
A healthcare provider will visually examine your face. They may gently press on the skin in front of your ears and along your jawline.
To confirm a parotitis diagnosis, the provider may also massage your parotid gland from the back to the front. This helps them determine if drainage (pus) is present in your saliva.
Next, they’ll perform bacterial culture testing to figure out the best course of treatment. For example, if bacteria are found in the drainage, then they’ll prescribe antibiotics to treat the condition.
When parotitis is caused by a viral, bacterial or fungal infection, your healthcare provider will prescribe the appropriate medication (antivirals, antibiotics or antifungals). Over-the-counter pain relievers — such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen — can help ease tenderness or discomfort. Your provider may also recommend massaging or applying heat to your swollen parotid glands.
Otherwise, parotitis treatment largely depends on the underlying condition. For example, if parotitis is associated with an autoimmune disease, your provider will probably recommend steroids. If parotitis is due to salivary gland stones, eating sour foods (like lemon candy) can sometimes help.
When nonsurgical treatments don’t work, a parotidectomy may be necessary. A parotidectomy is a surgery to remove all or part of your parotid gland. Typically, surgery is reserved for people with parotid gland tumors or parotid gland cancers.
In some cases, parotid gland swelling goes away on its own. Your healthcare provider may recommend treatments to ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery.
The best way to prevent acute parotitis is to get the MMR vaccine. To reduce your risk of other types of parotitis:
The outlook for people with parotitis is typically good with treatment. The condition usually lasts about seven to 10 days. Even without treatment, most people fully recover without complications.
If you develop severe facial swelling, you should see a healthcare provider immediately — especially if your symptoms include fever, chills or other signs of infection.
Because parotitis can exhibit the same symptoms as salivary gland cancer, it’s important to seek proper diagnosis and treatment right away.
If you develop parotitis, here are some questions you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Parotitis isn’t usually dangerous, but it can be very uncomfortable. If you have a parotid gland infection, you should isolate yourself until you’re no longer contagious. Most people recover within 10 days. Because parotitis is often a symptom of an underlying condition, it’s important to see a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/20/2022.
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