Symptoms of Mumps

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Mumps is a viral infection that is known for producing painfully swollen salivary glands, fever, and headache. Mumps can be mild, especially in children, or have no symptoms at all. There is a greater risk of complications for those who are infected after puberty, including testicular and ovarian inflammation. Serious complications include hearing loss and rare life-threatening meningitis and encephalitis. Here's what to expect through the course of the illness.

mumps symptoms
© Verywell, 2018 

Frequent Symptoms

Mumps is easily spread through contact with infected saliva, sneezing, or coughing. The usual incubation period (the time between exposure to an infection and the first appearance of symptoms) for mumps is between 16 and 18 days although this period may vary between 12 and 25 days. You are also contagious from two days before symptoms begin until six days after you have no symptoms. 

Symptoms of mumps include:

  • Fever, beginning as low grade but can reach 103
  • A headache
  • Tenderness and swelling of one or more of the salivary glands close to the jaw (parotitis). The parotid gland located in front of the ear is the most commonly affected gland.
  • Pain when chewing or swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness

You may have a low-grade fever, malaise, and headache for several days before you develop the swollen salivary glands. Some people have no symptoms. Others have only very mild generalized symptoms (low-grade fever, feeling sick) or respiratory symptoms. Swollen glands are seen in only 31 percent to 65 percent of the cases.

The parotid gland on one side may swell before the one on the other side. The salivary glands under the floor of the mouth also swell for some people. The swelling usually peaks in one to three days and then subsides over the next week. This is true for each gland, and the swelling and resolution often occurs in waves.

Once you have had mumps, you acquire immunity and people who have had mumps rarely get it again. If they do, it is usually a much milder case of the illness.

Rare Symptoms

Less common but more severe symptoms can include:

  • High fever
  • Shaking chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Neck pain

Mild inflammation of the nervous system is common but it only develops into serious inflammation in 1 percent of the cases. Inflammation of the covering of the brain or spinal cord (meningitis) or of the brain itself (encephalitis) can cause moderate to severe headaches. You may also feel confusion or disorientation due to this inflammation. Brain involvement can be seen during the initial infection or it can develop after the other symptoms have subsided. While these conditions usually resolve without treatment, they can be life-threatening.

Pancreatic inflammation is rare but can result in pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, and vomiting. It is only a temporary condition. There may also be inflammation in other organs such as the heart.

Inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) may be noted in men who have gone through puberty, occurring up to 10 percent of the time. One or both testicles can be swollen and painful. This symptom begins seven to 10 days after the salivary glands swell and are accompanied by a high fever. Sometimes men will also have abdominal pain that might be mistaken for appendicitis. It usually eases in three to seven days.

Inflammation of the ovaries and breasts can be seen in women who have reached puberty, but these occur in less than 1 percent of cases. A woman may feel abdominal tenderness if the ovaries are inflamed and breast pain, if the breasts are, are inflamed.

Complications

Hearing loss is a rare complication of mumps, occurring in less than 1 percent of cases. It usually is seen in just one ear and hearing returns. However, the hearing loss can be permanent and mumps is the most frequent cause of one-sided sensorineural deafness in children. It is wise to have your child's hearing tested six to 12 months after a case of mumps. The options for permanent hearing loss include hearing aids, cochlear implants, or learning new communications skills such as sign language, lip reading, and cued speech

People who reach puberty without being vaccinated or having mumps previously are more at risk of complications due to inflammation of the testes, ovaries, and central nervous system. Orchitis results in shrinking of the affected testicle in about half of the cases and the sperm count can be lowered in about 10 percent of cases. Lower fertility can result, but sterility is a rare complication. In women, ovarian inflammation can rarely result in infertility and premature menopause.

Encephalitis is the most dangerous complication and can result in seizures, paralysis, or other neurologic conditions. It is the most frequent cause of the very rare deaths attributed to mumps.

While mumps has not been linked to birth defects or premature birth, it has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage if the mother acquires mumps the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This could occur if a woman was not vaccinated or didn't have mumps earlier in life.

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if you are not sure whether your symptoms are due to mumps. There is no specific treatment for mumps, but your doctor may want to rule out other causes of the symptoms that may require treatment.

Call your doctor to see if an appointment is warranted if you have these signs that the illness is developing one of the serious complications:

  • Stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • A severe headache
  • Red eyes
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • A lump or pain in the testicles
Causes and Risk Factors of Mumps
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