Mumps is a highly contagious viral disease that causes painful swelling of the parotid glands, the largest of the three major salivary glands, located in the cheeks. The disease usually strikes children and adolescents, and is generally self-limited, which means that the virus usually clears up completely after running its course without long-term complications. Prior to the introduction of a mumps vaccine in 1967, about half of all children contracted mumps. Since then, the incidence of the disease has decreased approximately 99% in the United States, with only about 1500 cases reported each year. A person develops lifelong protection against mumps after having the disease one time.
Signs and SymptomsMumps is accompanied by the following signs and symptoms:
- 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
- Orchitis, or inflammation of the testicles (in up to 25% of males who get the disease after they reach puberty)
What Causes It?Mumps is caused by a virus (paramyxovirus) spread through infected saliva. Most symptoms are the result of direct infection of the salivary glands, testes, pancreas, eyes, ovaries, or kidneys. There may be central nervous system involvement as well.
Who's Most At Risk?People who are not immunized, particularly children and adolescents, are at risk for developing mumps. Mumps most often occurs in children between 5 and 9 years of age.
What to Expect at Your Provider's OfficeIf you are experiencing symptoms associated with mumps, you should see your healthcare provider. He or she will check for swelling in the facial region, especially below the ear and above the jaw. Lab tests using samples from the throat, cerebrospinal fluid, blood, or possibly urine can reveal the presence of the virus. Routine hearing tests may be performed on young children to detect any temporary or, rarely, permanent loss.
PreventionVaccination is the key to preventing mumps. The live mumps virus is approximately 95% effective in preventing the disease. The vaccine is available alone or as the combination vaccine of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), and usually lasts at least 20 years with very few side effects. It is generally given at age 15 months, but may be given to adolescents and adults as well. Women should not be vaccinated during pregnancy and people with severe fever or allergies to eggs will need to discuss vaccination with their healthcare provider.
Treatment PlanA person with mumps should be kept out of school or work for 7 to 10 days after symptoms begin, as he or she is considered contagious during that period. The patient should eat soft foods, avoid acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus or tomato products, and take pain relievers as needed. A male with swollen testicles should rest in bed until symptoms subside. Pain may be relieved with ice packs, or by supporting the scrotum with cotton or gauze, or an athletic supporter. Your healthcare provider may perform a hearing test on young children who develop mumps, to detect any possible loss of hearing. If the patient develops pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) with nausea and vomiting, the provider may administer IV fluids. Please see the monograph on Pancreatitis for further information.
Drug TherapiesNo medications other than pain relievers are needed for uncomplicated cases of mumps.
Complementary and Alternative TherapiesThe mumps virus normally resolves on its own; therefore, treatment is meant to relieve symptoms. There is a possibility that acupuncture may help clear up mumps faster; other CAM therapies may also support recovery by reducing symptoms.
As mentioned above, avoid acidic foods, as they can increase the release of enzymes from your parotid glands. Drink lots of fluids in frequent small sips. Vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc may help support your immune system.
To treat viruses in general, herbalists may recommend herbs that stimulate the immune system, reduce fever, and fight microbes. These include echinacea (Echinacea spp.), peppermint (Mentha piperita), onion (Allium cepa), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), elder (Sambucus nigra), and mullein (Verbascum thapsus). So far studies have not been done to determine whether these herbs can treat mumps specifically. To use any herbs safely and effectively, it is best to see a specialist trained in herbal medicine.
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, 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. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her 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; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals who have a throbbing headache, flushed face, and burning sensations in the throat
- 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; symptoms also include pale skin, a sore throat that radiates to the ear, pain when the tongue is extended, and difficulty swallowing (particularly hot foods)
- Pilocarpinum — for mumps with excessive perspiration and salivation, as well as considerable thirst; 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; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals who have a dry mouth and fever (but are not thirsty) and have mumps that involve the breasts, ovaries, or testicles; symptoms tend to worsen at night and in warm rooms; open air brings some relief
- Rhus toxicodendron — for mumps with swelling that is worse on the left side; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals who have cold sores, sensitivity to cold temperature, and aching limbs that are worse at night and when the individual first begins moving from a rested position; aching limbs tend to improve with continuous movement
Acupuncture may make mumps less severe and shorten its course. However, it is difficult to test such claims since the mumps infection normally resolves on its own within 7 to 14 days. The following case reports from Chinese journals describe the use of acupuncture for mumps.
One study reviewed 1000 cases of mumps in children ages 5 to 10 years old, all of whom suffered from common symptoms of mumps. They were treated with ear needling. In all cases, symptoms improved or resolved completely, some after only one treatment and all within five treatments. The earlier the child was treated after symptoms started, the fewer acupuncture treatments they needed. Again, it is difficult to tell what this means for mumps treatment; for instance, it is not clear whether all the cases of mumps were diagnosed correctly initially. However, the results raise the possibility that acupuncture may help support treatment for mumps.
A report of 108 cases of acute mumps in patients ages 3 months to 24 years showed similar results. Patients had been ill for 1 to 4 days when they saw the acupuncturist. Again, in all cases, symptoms improved or resolved completely, some within one treatment, most within three, and all within five treatments. The reported success rate was 95%. However, as with the previous report, it is difficult to draw clear conclusions from this report about how well acupuncture works for mumps.
Prognosis/Possible ComplicationsFor uncomplicated cases of mumps, the prognosis is excellent. Complications are more likely in individuals who have reached puberty and beyond; these may include meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and its membranous coverings), deafness, orchitis, pancreatitis, and miscarriage in early pregnancy.
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