Mumps is an infection caused by a virus. It mainly affects the salivary glands but sometimes other parts of the body are affected. Mumps normally affects children, but can occur at any age. Mumps is now rare in the UK as children are routinely immunised against mumps.
What is mumps?
Mumps is an infection caused by a type of virus called a paramyxovirus. It is very contagious and spread in saliva, the same way as a cold or flu. This means it can be caught from an infected person coughing, sneezing, etc. It can also be caught from touching infected objects – for example, door handles.
Mumps infection is less common since the introduction of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in the UK. (See separate leaflet called ‘MMR Immunisation’ for more information.) Mumps infection is now most common in children who have not received the vaccine.
It is very unusual for children under one year to have mumps.
What are the usual symptoms of mumps?
- Swelling and pain of one or both parotid glands are the usual main symptoms. The parotid glands are the main salivary glands. They are just below the ears and you cannot normally see or feel them. The salivary glands make saliva which drains into the mouth.
- The mouth may feel dry.
- Chewing and swallowing may be sore.
- Fever (high temperature), headache, feeling tired and being off food may develop for a few days. These symptoms may occur before you develop swelling of your parotid gland.
- Mild abdominal (tummy) pain may occur.
The swelling of the parotid glands usually lasts for 4-8 days. Mumps is normally a mild illness, but complications sometimes occur. This is why immunisation is important.
There may be no symptoms, or only very minor ones. It is thought that about 3 in 10 people who contract the mumps virus have no symptoms. Rarely, complications alone occur without the usual symptoms occurring first.
The immune system makes antibodies during the infection. These clear the virus and then provide lifelong immunity. It is therefore very rare to have more than one episode of mumps.
What are the possible complications of mumps?
The outlook for young children with mumps is very good. Teenagers and adults with mumps are more likely to develop complications, which may include one (or more) of the following:
- The testes (testicles) are sometimes affected. One testis may become inflamed, swollen, and painful for about a week. This is uncommon in young children. However, about 1 in 4 males who get mumps over the age of 12 years will develop a painful swollen testis. Occasionally, both testes are affected. In very rare cases this may cause infertility.
- Brain inflammation (encephalitis or meningitis) is an uncommon complication. It typically causes drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, wanting to keep out of the light and vomiting. Although alarming, meningitis caused by the mumps virus usually clears without any treatment after a few days, without any long-term problems.
- Hearing loss can sometimes occur in people with mumps. This is usually only transient and usually improves with time. Very rarely, mumps can cause permanent deafness.
- Inflammation of the pancreas, heart, and other organs are rare complications.
- If you develop mumps in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, it may increase the risk of miscarriage. (However, the mumps virus is not thought to cause malformations or defects in an unborn baby.)
How is mumps diagnosed?
Mumps is most commonly diagnosed by your symptoms and the type of glands that are enlarged in your body. However, some people have a swab taken from their mouth to obtain some saliva. This is sent to the laboratory to confirm the diagnosis.
What is the treatment for mumps?
There is no medicine that kills the mumps virus. For most people, mumps improves over a week with no long-term problems.
Treatment aims to ease symptoms until the body’s immune system clears the virus:
- You do not usually need any treatment if your symptoms are mild.
- Paracetamol or ibuprofen can ease fever and pain.
- Give children lots to drink, particularly if they have a fever. Fruit juice may stimulate the parotid gland to make more saliva, and cause more pain. Water is best if this occurs.
- A warm flannel held against a painful parotid gland can be soothing.
Remedies for Mumps
Like most other viral illnesses, doctors advise patients to allow mumps to run its course, as antibiotics have no effect on a virus. In case there are no complications, you can probably recover from mumps completely, within two weeks or so. Fortunately, there are many simple home remedies that can you use in order to get relief from its symptoms. Given below are some of the most common home remedies for mumps:
- Make a thick paste from dry ginger and water and apply it on to the swollen area around the ears. This should reduce not just the swelling, but also the pain in the area.
- Aloe Vera juice and gel are excellent remedies for many health problems, including the mumps. Take a fresh Aloe Vera leaf and slice it, so that its natural gel is exposed. Rub this gel on to the area that is inflamed, for relied from the pain and swelling.
- Cold therapy is an excellent way to reduce swelling caused by mumps. Rubbing an ice pack should also help numb the area for a while, which reduces the pain naturally.
- Get plenty of rest and relaxation, until the fever goes away. Avoid talking more than necessary, so that you can give your jaw rest, which will alleviate the pain around the ears,
- Take some over the counter pain relievers to alleviate the discomfort caused by mumps. However, children should not be given medication that is recommended for adults.
While undergoing treatment for mumps, it is important for all individuals in close proximity to the patient to alsoto watch for the signs of any complications.
Diet for Mumps
Activities like chewing could be quite a challenge in patients suffering from this viral condition. Therefore, during the course of this illness, it is best to follow a specific diet for mumps, which mainly consists of foods that are soft and can be easily swallowed, without being chewed. At the same time however, it is important for you to consume those foods that are high in nutrients to allow your body to recover at a faster pace. Some of the most highly recommended food items for mumps patients include:
- Soft and semi-solid foods like runny oatmeal, rice porridge and creamy potatoes
- Rich sources of Vitamin C, like leafy green veggies, mangoes and cantaloupe
- Soup or broth-based foods, especially clear vegetable soup or chicken soup
- Non-citric fruit and vegetable juice, without any added sugar or preservatives
- Spices like ginger, garlic and black pepper
There are certain foods that aggravate mumps and should be avoided. For example, even though oranges are high in Vitamin C, they are acidic and can stimulate the production of saliva, which worsens the pain caused by mumps. Therefore, any foods that are sour or acidic should be strictly avoided. Meat, especially processed meat, is not only difficult to digest, but also puts a lot of strain on the jaw. Moreover, since it is loaded with preservatives and additives, it could have an adverse effect on your body, especially when your immune system is not as strong as it normally is. Oily and fatty food can also worsen mumps symptoms and therefore, it is best to avoid them.
Suggestion for Mumps
Mumps is not exactly a cause for concern, but only as long as there are no complications. Unfortunately, there is no particular way in which these complications can be avoided. Therefore, it is best to keep a lookout for the signs and symptoms for any complications, just so that they can be treated as quickly as possible.
One of the most important suggestions for mumps patients is to isolate themselves for a while, so that the illness is not passed on to the other members of the family or others. This is all the more important for the first five days.
Mumps patients, who are elderly or are already suffering from any preexisting medical condition, need to consult a doctor without any delay. It is also important to make sure that their health is monitored regularly.