Mumps is a contagious disease that causes painful swelling of the parotid glands, the largest of the three major pairs of salivary glands, located in the cheeks. It is caused by a virus and usually strikes children and teens. It usually goes away completely after running its course, and complications are rare. However, some complications can be serious.
Before a mumps vaccine was introduced in 1967, it was a very common childhood illness. Now that most children are vaccinated, it is relatively rare for kids to get mumps. However, there have been a few outbreaks in recent years that affected several thousand children.
Signs and Symptoms
The following signs and symptoms often accompany mumps:
- Swelling of the salivary glands in the face and jaw line
- Fever, chills, headache, loss of appetite, and a general feeling of discomfort
- Pain when chewing or swallowing
- Inflammation of the testicles, which happens in up to 25% of men who get the disease after they reach puberty
Symptoms usually start 14 to 24 days after infection with the virus.
What Causes It?
Mumps is caused by a virus and spread through infected saliva. You can get mumps from breathing in droplets of the virus when an infected person has coughed or sneezed, or by sharing utensils.
Who Is Most At Risk?
People who have not been vaccinated, particularly children and teens, are at risk for developing mumps. Mumps occur most often in children between the ages of 5 and 9.
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
If you have symptoms of mumps, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will check for swelling in your face, especially below the ears and above the jaw. Your doctor may also do a blood test or a viral culture to see if the mumps virus is present. Routine hearing tests on young children can find any temporary or, rarely, permanent loss.
Vaccination is the key to preventing mumps. The live mumps virus is about 95% effective in preventing the disease. The vaccine is available by itself or in the combination vaccine of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR). Protection usually lasts at least 20 years with very few side effects. It is generally given at 15 months of age, but teens and adults can get it as well. Children with juvenile-onset arthritis have lower antibody concentrations than healthy children after vaccination. These children may need booster vaccines. Pregnant women should not be vaccinated, and people with fever or allergies to eggs should talk with their doctors before getting vaccinated. Infants of vaccinated women lose maternal mumps antibodies earlier in life compared to those of naturally-infected women.
If you have mumps, you should stay out of school or work for 7 to 10 days after symptoms start. That's when you are most contagious. You should eat soft foods, avoid acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus or tomato products, and take pain relievers as needed. Children under 18 should not take aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious illness. Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) instead as directed by your pediatrician.
A man with swollen testicles should rest in bed until symptoms get better. Relieve pain with ice packs, or by supporting the scrotum with cotton or gauze, or an athletic supporter.
A doctor may do a hearing test on young children who develop mumps, to detect hearing loss.
If the person develops pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) with nausea and vomiting, the doctor may give IV fluids.
No medications other than pain relievers are needed for most cases of mumps.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Mumps usually gets better on its own, although you should always see your doctor if you have symptoms of mumps. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms, and some complementary and alternative medicine therapies (CAM) may help.
Nutrition and Supplements
Adults and children may want to eat soft foods until they feel better and the swelling goes down. Make sure children get plenty of fluids.
The following supplements may also help. Always ask your pediatrician before giving herbs or supplements to a child.
- Probiotic supplement (containing Lactobacillus acidophilus), 5 to 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) daily, to help maintain intestinal health. Some evidence suggests probiotics may also help strengthen the immune system, although there is no clear proof. If you take drugs to suppress your immune system, or if you have a weakened immune system, ask your doctor before taking probiotics. Refrigerate your probiotic supplements for best results.
- Bromelain, an enzyme made from pineapple, taken between meals, reduces inflammation. It is often used with turmeric (Curcuma longa), an anti-inflammatory that makes the effects of bromelain stronger. Both bromelain and turmeric can increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin. People who are allergic to pineapple should not take bromelain.
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your doctor to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts).
Always ask your pediatrician before giving any herb or supplement to a child.
- Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is an antioxidant that may help strengthen the immune system. Use caffeine-free products. You may also prepare teas from the leaf of this herb.
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract has antiviral properties and may help strengthen the immune system. Ask your health care provider before giving it to a child. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take elderberry. If you have an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, or if you take drugs to suppress your immune system, you should not take elderberry.
- Soothing herbal teas may help decrease pain and swelling.
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. However, a professional homeopath may recommend one or more of the following treatments for mumps based on his or her knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
- Aconitum -- useful for childhood illnesses including the mumps, particularly when onset is sudden and the individual has a fever.
- Belladonna -- most common treatment for mumps, particularly if it comes on rapidly.
- Mercurius -- for mumps with swelling that is worse on the right side, excessive foul-smelling perspiration and salivation.
- Phytolacca -- for mumps in which glands feel swollen and hard.
- Pilocarpinum -- for mumps with excessive perspiration and salivation, as well as considerable thirst. This is considered by some homeopaths to be the best remedy for this purpose.
- Pulsatilla -- for the later stages of mumps, especially in adults or children approaching puberty.
- Rhus toxicodendron -- for mumps with swelling that is worse on the left side.
Prognosis and Possible Complications
Most cases of mumps get better without any lasting problems. Complications are more likely in teens and adults. These may include:
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain and its membranous coverings)
- Orchitis (testicle swelling)
- Miscarriage in early pregnancy
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