Several salivary glands are present in the mouth. Some lie on lips and tongue while some are present in the cheeks and palate. Most of these glands are very small in size. The three pairs of major salivary glands are situated below each ear. The largest of these glands are known as parotid glands or parotid salivary glands. Swollen parotid gland in children, normally indicates mumps. A few decades ago, mumps was very common but discovery and easy availability of the vaccine MMR has almost ruled out the possibility of children having mumps. Take a look at the causes and symptoms of swelling in parotid gland that are enlisted in the following section.
Causes of Swollen Parotid Gland
Mumps is more common in children but it can also occur in adults. Not only the children in underdeveloped countries but also the children in developed countries still suffer from mumps. A viral infection causes mumps and it leads to swelling in parotid glands and also in the surrounding epithelial tissues. If not treated promptly, the infection can seriously affect the health of the child, resulting in several health complications. It can even affect the function of the ears and can lead to partial or complete deafness. Mumps is contagious but it can be prevented with the help of MMR vaccine.
Poor oral hygiene can lead to growth of bacteria in the mouth. Severely ill people or dehydrated people suffer from poor oral hygiene. Parotid glands may swell due to bacterial infection (Bacterial parotitis).
Formation of Stones
The parotid ducts carry saliva from the gland and empty it into the mouth near the upper molars. Sometimes, stones are formed in the parotid duct or ducts. When the flow of saliva gets obstructed due to stones, the environment becomes favorable for bacterial growth. Obstruction in the parotid duct on one side may lead to swelling of parotid gland only on one side. This condition is usually noticed in adults.
Formation of Tumor
Development of a tumor can be the cause of obstruction of the flow of saliva from parotid gland or glands. A tumor growing in the parotid gland can exert pressure on the parotid duct. If the duct is not able to empty the saliva into the mouth, there can be swelling in the involved gland. When an adult has swelling in the area around a parotid gland (only on one side), it is more likely to be due to a tumor. The tumor can be benign or malignant. The condition wherein a tumor invades more than one gland is very rare.
Diseases and Disorders
An autoimmune disease like HIV/AIDS or Sjögren's syndrome can lead to swelling in parotid glands. Body's immune system itself invades the glands, resulting in inflammation of the glands. Diseases and disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, sarcoidosis and even alcohol abuse can lead to enlargement of parotid glands.
Abnormal duct system (narrowing of ducts at some points) may lead to obstruction of saliva, resulting in swelling of the gland. Enlargement of nearby lymph nodes due to infection or tumors can also lead to swelling of parotid glands.
Symptoms of Swollen Parotid Gland
The symptoms may vary according to the cause. As seen above, bacterial or viral infection and obstructed flow of saliva are the main causes of swollen parotids.
- Swelling below the ears, on one side of the face or on both sides of the face.
- Constant pain in ears
- Ear-pain while eating
- Abnormal, foul taste in mouth
- Difficulty opening mouth
- Facial pain
- Inflammation over upper neck and side of the face
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Swelling on the floor of the mouth and below the jaw
- Pain in the throat
- Low to high degree fever
- Sore muscles
- Loss of appetite
- Dry eyes
- Adolescent boys and men may notice swollen testes
- Pain in the involved gland
- Loss of angle of the jaw
- Partial or complete loss of movement of the affected side of the face.
Infection and tumor in the parotid glands need prompt medical attention. Neglecting the symptoms may result in formation of puss in the glands. Saliva produced by salivary glands plays an important role in moistening your mouth and also in digestion of the ingested food. It also protects your teeth from decay. Maintaining proper oral hygiene is necessary to prevent salivary glands diseases. Infections, dry mouth, dehydration can lead to salivary glands diseases.
Therefore, one should drink plenty of water every day. Severe salivary gland infection can spread into the brain or spine and can result in serious health complications like sterility, brain damage, etc. Hence, it is advised that you should immediately see your doctor if you feel that the parotid glands are swollen.