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Mumps is a contagious viral infection caused by a certain strain of the paramyxovirus - the same virus family that causes measles. Mumps primarily affects the salivary glands that live around the bottom of the jaw and near the ears. In some cases, the first signs of a mumps infection usually appear when these glands become inflamed and swollen, which then causes the cheeks to swell up and puff out. This inflammation can be painful and may appear on one or both sides of the face.
- Pain while chewing or swallowing
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
Older boys and young men may experience a condition known as orchitis or inflammation of the testicles. This rarely causes complications but can be painful.
In many cases, the symptoms of mumps are very mild. Some people will experience no symptoms at all. For most, symptoms won’t begin to appear until 12-18 days after exposure to the virus.
Mumps is usually spread through water droplets that travel through the air when we sneeze or speak. It may also be passed from person to person through close contact or sharing personal items such as eating utensils or drinks.
Mumps has become far less common since most people receive a vaccination to protect against the infection. Many children receive an MMR vaccine before beginning school, which contains vaccinations for mumps, measles, and rubella. Most people are completely immune from these diseases after receiving two doses of the vaccine. The MMR vaccine is safe and results in very few side effects. However, it is generally recommended that you hold off on getting the MMR vaccine (if you haven’t gotten it already) if you have a chronic illness, are currently ill, or are pregnant.
Below are common treatment options used to reduce and relieve the symptoms of mumps. During your appointment, talk to your provider about the treatment plan that’s right for you.
Because mumps is a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective as a treatment. If you are not vaccinated against the mumps and have been infected, your best method of treatment is taking care of yourself and resting. Self-care strategies to encourage recovery include:
- Rest: Your body needs the energy to fight the infection. Make sure you are avoiding strenuous activity and practicing healthy sleep habits.
- Take an OTC pain reliever: Over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help reduce the symptoms of mumps.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Drinking water, broth, fruit juice, and electrolyte-rich drinks can help prevent dehydration and reduce the symptoms of the mumps.
- Eat soft foods: Mumps can cause pain while chewing, so eat soft foods such as oatmeal, broths, or mashed potatoes. Additionally, avoid sour foods such as citrus fruits, as these can stimulate saliva production (which can cause pain).
- Use an ice pack or heating pad: Hot pads or ice packs can help reduce pain and inflammation in the salivary glands. If you are using an ice pack, be sure to wrap it in a clean towel to avoid damaging your skin.
Avoid social contact and public spaces if you or your child is experiencing the mumps. While many Americans are protected against mumps through vaccination, it can be spread easily through the air. Stay home and rest until the symptoms have been gone for a few days.