Mumps: Symptoms and Treatment
Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have mumps.
What is mumps?
Mumps is a highly contagious infection caused by a virus. It causes an infection and inflammation in the salivary glands under the ears, which produce saliva.
The infection causes swelling in the side of the face, along with fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite.
How long do mumps last?
Mumps infections usually occur in the late winter and early spring. The infection should go away on its own within 7 to 21 days.
Most people who get mumps recover fully without long-term side effects. There is a vaccine that is routinely offered to every child to prevent mumps. It is part of the MMR vaccine.
In extreme cases, the virus can affect testes and decrease fertility. In rare cases, there are other complications of mumps.
Most common symptoms
In mumps, both cheeks are usually swollen at the same time. People have mild symptoms but typically do not seem very sick. They may be unvaccinated or it may have been decades since their vaccination. —Dr. Anis Rehman
The virus most commonly infects the parotid glands, the mouth’s largest salivary glands. It causes cheeks to become swollen. A child might look like a chipmunk holding food in its cheeks.
The swollen glands are painful. Swallowing, talking, chewing, and drinking can make the pain worse. People usually experience fever, headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite before their cheeks swell.
In teenage boys, one or both testicles may become swollen and painful. This happens 7 to 10 days after the parotid glands swell. it can last up to 2 weeks.
In females, the ovaries may be affected, though this is less common. Symptoms typically include fever, vomiting, and lower abdominal pain.
Symptoms start anywhere from 12 to 25 days after being exposed to the virus. They can range in severity. Some people may have very mild symptoms.
- Lack of appetite
- Inflammation of the parotid glands (called parotitis)
- Inflammation of the testicles in males (called orchitis)
How do you catch mumps?
Mumps is now uncommon due to widespread vaccination. I have never seen a patient with mumps. I have seen swollen parotid glands from other viruses, like EBV. —Dr. Rehman
The mumps spreads easily through respiratory droplets (like your saliva and snot) in the air. Certain risk factors can increase your chance of getting infected, especially if you weren’t vaccinated.
- Age. Children are at greater risk. Particularly those in daycare or other child care settings.
- Time of year. You’re more likely to get mumps in late winter and early spring. Temperature and humidity are ideal for the virus to spread. But you can get mumps any time in the year.
- Weakened immune system. If you have a chronic illness or a weakened immune system (you are an elderly person or you are getting chemotherapy), your risk is higher.
- Exposure. If you are around many people—for example, in a college dorm—you are more likely to be exposed to the virus.
The majority of mumps infections go away on their own. Usually, you only need to see your primary care physician or pediatrician. You don’t need to go to the ER.
Mumps is highly contagious. If you think you or a family member has it, your doctor must report it right away to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even though most people have been vaccinated, you must limit your contact with others while you’re infected. People are most contagious 1 to 2 days before symptoms appear and stay contagious for about 5 to 6 days.
Your doctor will recommend isolating yourself—don’t see anyone—for 5 to 7 days or longer depending on your symptoms.
Mumps is caused by the paramyxovirus, which is a member of the rubulavirus family.
The virus infects the salivary glands. Most often, it infects the parotid glands. Less commonly, it also infects the submandibular and sublingual glands. The infection causes the glands to become inflamed and swollen.
The mumps virus spreads in the air through infected droplets. Usually, when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
The virus can also spread by touching contaminated objects—such as toys, doorknobs, and cellphones.
Do mumps go away on their own?
Most people do not know that men’s testicles also get swollen and that mumps can cause infertility. —Dr. Rehman
Mumps usually goes away on its own. There is no cure. You can only try to relieve symptoms and let your body rest. Antibiotics do not work against viruses so they will not help against mumps.
Your doctor may suggest the following treatments:
- Pain medication. Mild pain relievers—like acetaminophen—for fever, headache, and any pain. Always check with your doctor before taking or giving any medications. For example, children should never take aspirin. It can cause Reye's syndrome, a rare but dangerous condition.
- Compresses. Cold and warm compresses (ice/heat packs) can help reduce swelling and tenderness. You can use them for the parotid glands and testicular glands. Bedrest and raising legs on a pillow can also relieve testicle pain.
Get vaccinated. The mumps vaccine is usually given in two doses, along with the measles and rubella vaccines. (It's also called the MMR vaccine.)
Children get the first dose when they are 1 year old. And again when they’re 4 to 6 years old. The CDC recommends a third dose for teens before going to college.
Adults born in 1957 or later and who have never had mumps or do not know if they were vaccinated may also need to be vaccinated. You may want to ask your doctor to check whether you have immunity.