Mumps

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is mumps?

Mumps is an infectious disease caused by a virus that typically leads to painful swelling of the salivary glands in front of and below the ears. Mumps typically occurs in children between the ages of two and 12 years who were not vaccinated against mumps. Mumps may also cause flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, cough, and aches and pains; and these symptoms typically develop first, before salivary gland swelling is apparent. The salivary gland swelling may be minor or not even noticeable in some cases, and it can occur on one or both sides of the face.

Infections are spread from one person to another through droplets of mucus or saliva. The symptoms develop at any time from 12 to 25 days following infection. Mumps is very contagious, and those who are affected should be isolated for five days after the appearance of salivary gland swelling. Sometimes, it is possible to be infected with the mumps virus without having any symptoms.

Since the mumps vaccine was introduced in the 1960s, the infection is no longer common in the United States. Still, mumps is painful and can lead to serious complications such as deafness and, rarely, to fertility problems in males, so prevention is very important.

In some cases, mumps can be a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or your child, have any of these serious symptoms, including persistent drowsiness, persistent vomiting or abdominal pain, severe headache, or testicle pain or lump.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

The classic sign of mumps is the swelling of the salivary glands, which is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms that usually start before the facial swelling is apparent.

Common symptoms of mumps

The common symptoms of mumps include the following:

  • Facial pain

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Sore throat

  • Swelling of the parotid glands (the largest salivary glands, located between the ear and the jaw)

  • Swelling of the temples or jaw (temporomandibular area)

Symptoms in males

Mumps may produce the following symptoms in males:

Symptoms that might indicate a serious conditio

In some cases, mumps can be a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

What causes mumps?

Mumps is an infectious disease caused by a virus that is transmitted by droplets of mucus or saliva from an infected person. The virus that causes mumps is a member of the paramyxovirus family, the same family that includes the measles virus. People may catch mumps by breathing the same air or having close contact with a person who is infected. You can also catch mumps by touching household items that have been handled or used by an infected person.

What are the risk factors for mumps?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing mumps. Not all people with risk factors will get mumps. Risk factors for mumps include:

  • Close contact with someone who has mumps
  • Lack of vaccination against mumps

Reducing your risk of mumps

Vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of mumps. Typically, the mumps vaccine is administered as a combination vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). It is administered in two stages: one inoculation at age 12 to 15 months and the second at age four to six years. Proof of vaccination is usually required for school entrance.

You can also lower your risk of getting mumps by avoiding contact with infected persons and household items used by infected persons.

How is mumps treated?

Mumps typically resolves on its own without the need for specific treatment. Although there are no medications to cure mumps, you can take self-care measures to help relieve symptoms and improve prognosis for recovery.

Pain-relieving medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be used to relieve symptoms.

What you can do to improve your mumps

You can take steps at home to improve symptoms if you, or someone you are caring for, have mumps. These include:

  • Applying ice packs to the neck
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eating soft foods
  • Gargling with warm saltwater

What are the potential complications of mumps?

Most people can expect a complete recovery from mumps and lifelong immunity from reinfection. If you have serious symptoms of mumps, getting prompt treatment from your health care professional can help reduce the complications of mumps including:

  • Deafness, which may be temporary or permanent
  • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)
  • Fertility problems in males as a result of orchitis
  • Oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries)
  • Orchitis (inflammation of the testes)
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 18
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Mumps. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mumps/
  2. Mumps. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001557.htm
  3. Kutty PK, Kyaw MH, Dayan GH, et al. Guidance for isolation precautions for mumps in the United States: a review of the scientific basis for policy change. Clin Infect Dis 2010; 50:1619.
  4. Feigin RD, Cherry JD, Demmler-Harrison GJ, Kaplan SL (Eds), Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2009.