Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a viral infection affecting the salivary glands. It is manifested as a swelling on the back of either or both sides of the cheek where the salivary glands are located.
Children between the ages of 5 and 12 years are likely to contract the mumps virus. However, adults may also acquire the illness. Once infected, the individual usually gets lifelong immunity against the virus. However, reinfection (usually in the elderly or the immunocompromised) can occur.
What Causes Mumps?
The virus behind the disease is a paramyxovirus. It spreads in close quarters with direct contact, exposure to infected saliva, or respiratory droplets, when an infected person coughs and sneezes releasing virus-laden droplets in the air.
The incubation time (the time period from exposure to symptoms) is approximately 2 to 3 weeks. Mumps is most contagious during the first week after the onset of symptoms. Furthermore, certain individuals could be carriers of the virus though they may not manifest any symptoms. They, too, can still spread the virus to others.
Signs and Symptoms of Mumps
The classical symptom of mumps is puffy cheeks as a result of the swelling of the parotid glands, which are located between the lower jaw area and the ear.
The signature signs and symptoms of the illness include:
- Pain in the swollen region (the parotid glands) when touched and while chewing, swallowing, and consuming foods that are acidic or involve the release of salivary juices.
- Fever that lasts for 3–5 days
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Myalgias (muscle aches)
- In boys, swelling and pain in the testes (orchitis)
Standard Treatment for Mumps
The swelling on either side may take 1 week to subside. It may take about 10–12 days to recover fully from a mumps infection. Because mumps is caused by a viral infection, using antibiotics will not serve the purpose.
It must be kept in mind that there is no specific treatment for a mumps infection. Death rarely can occur.
Your doctor may prescribe medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce the symptoms of fever and pain.
Tips to Help Ease the Discomfort During Mumps
No scientific evidence is available to show the efficacy of the usage of home remedies to treat mumps, which are enlisted on various websites. However, you can follow these tips to help you feel comfortable while the virus runs its course.
1. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Because fever is a symptom of mumps, it is likely to cause fluid loss via the skin and, consequently, dehydration.
Hence, it is imperative to stay hydrated by drinking ample amounts of water.
- You can drink the water as is or in the form of other fluids such as mild chicken or vegetable soups, juices, stews, or bone broths.
2. Adequate Rest
Taking enough rest of about 8–9 hours is essential when you are down with the mumps virus. Rest will help your immune system to cope with the virus, reduce the symptoms, and promote recovery.
- Staying at home away from work, school, or other physical activities is advised to avoid the exacerbation of symptoms and to prevent the spread of the virus.
3. Apply Warm or Cold Compress
Applying a compress, either hot or cold, can help soothe the inflammation and swelling in the salivary glands.
- You can use an ice pack by wrapping a few ice cubes in a washcloth or use a heating pad as a compress on the swollen region. Do not keep the compress for more than 10 minutes at a time.
4. Avoid Acidic and Solid Foods
Acidic foods such as citrus fruits, including orange, lime, and sour juices, can aggravate the pain in your salivary glands by causing the stimulation of glandular excretion.
Solid foods that require a lot of chewing can also stimulate the salivary glands to produce saliva and enzymes involved in the digestion process. This can cause major discomfort and pain in the swollen glands.
- Restrict your intake of solid foods during an infection of the mumps virus.
5. Eat Soft and Cold Foods
The swelling in the salivary glands can debilitate the chewing and swallowing of the affected individual. This is likely to lead him to avoid foods that involve chewing in order to escape from the pain associated with the process.
- It is advised to include soft chewable foods in your diet. These include oatmeal, porridge, mashed potatoes, and pureed vegetables. You can also consider eating ice creams or other cold flavored treats that are soothing to your salivary glands.
6. Isolate the Patient
Because mumps is a highly contagious disease, it is advised to restrict your movement in order to prevent the risk of spreading the infection to others.
MMR Vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) – Myths and Facts
Getting your child vaccinated is essential for his good health. However, vaccines have been surrounded by several myths, which make many parents reluctant to get their child immunized. These include:
- It is better to acquire immunity through an infection rather than getting immunized.
- Administering three vaccines simultaneously is too much for the child.
- Being rare diseases, mumps, rubella, and measles do not require vaccination.
- The vaccine is associated with developmental abnormalities such as autism and bowel diseases.
- The vaccine was granted a license without any trials and tests.
- The need for a booster dose at the age of 4–6 years, which is the second shot of MMR, is usually undermined.
Administering doses of the MMR vaccine in children is recommended to prevent mumps, as the mumps virus can affect anyone who is not vaccinated or has lost immunity from a previous infection.
- First dose at the age of 12–15 months
- Second dose at the age of 4–6 years
- The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for public health authorities has also approved a third dose of MMR.
Administering a combined MMR vaccine does not provide 100 percent immunity and prevention. However, in order to be on the safe side and curtail the incidence of an infection and complications, it is best to stick to the immunization schedule and get you and your child vaccinated.
Complications of Mumps
Mumps infection in some very rare cases can be fatal and cause complications. These include:
- Permanent hearing loss – Although a rare complication, mumps virus can damage the cochlea.
- Pneumonia in children below the age of 5.
- Viral meningitis – This can affect about 10 percent of the infected individual, causing swelling around the brain and spinal cord.
- Orchitis – This is an inflammation of the testicles caused by the infection in 20–30 percent of affected males. Orchitis may result in sterility in very rare cases.
- Encephalitis – This is a rare complication that causes an inflammation in the brain and disables the patient in the long run.
- Pancreatitis – An inflammation of the pancreas.
When to See a Doctor
Because mumps is associated with a number of health issues, it is essential to check with your doctor if you notice:
- Pain in any part of the face
- Fever that measures 103 F or higher
- Persistent vomiting with the inability to keep fluids or foods down
- Pain in the abdomen or testes
Mumps is a viral infection with no specific treatment. However, you can get vaccinated on time to reduce the chances of an infection to a great extent.
Also, you can help comfort the symptoms of the disease by taking proper rest, staying hydrated, and avoiding solid foods. It is wise to prefer isolation at the slightest suspicion of an infection to avoid spreading the disease to others.
- Davison P. Mumps. StatPearls [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534785/. Published November 21, 2018.
- Rubin S, Eckhaus M, Rennick LJ, Bamford CGG, Duprex WP. Molecular biology, pathogenesis and pathology of mumps virus. The Journal of pathology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268314/. Published January 2015.
- DeStefano f, Shimabukuro TT; The MMR Vaccine and Autism. Annual Rev Virology, 2019.