What is mumps?


Mumps in children: Overview

Mumps is a viral illness that causes painful swelling of the parotid glands, which are salivary glands between the ear and the jaw. Mumps can sometimes spread to the testicles, ovaries, or pancreas, or to the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Mumps is usually not a serious illness. It can be passed from one person to another when a person who has the mumps virus coughs or sneezes. Your child also can get it by touching people who have mumps or items that have the virus on them. A vaccine can prevent mumps. Most cases of mumps today occur in children who were not vaccinated.

Mumps goes away on its own. Home care can help your child feel better while getting over mumps. Talk with your doctor about follow-up care.


Mumps is a contagious illness caused by a virus that infects the salivary glands, especially the parotid glands (between the ear and the jaw), and that sometimes infects other glands, particularly the testicles. The glands become swollen and tender as a result of the infection.

Other symptoms include belly pain and flu-like problems. Mumps can affect people of all ages. In adults, symptoms may be more severe, and complications are more likely. Most people get better with rest and home care. But some people need treatment in the hospital.

Although mumps is not common, it can spread to people who have not received the mumps vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella series).

What are the symptoms of mumps?

Symptoms of mumps may include a headache, an earache, a sore throat, and pain when you swallow or open your mouth. You may also have a fever, tiredness, and muscle aches. If you have more serious symptoms, such as a stiff neck, a severe headache, or severe belly pain, call your doctor right away.

How is mumps treated?

In most cases, people recover from mumps with rest and care at home. In complicated cases, a hospital stay may be required.

Why is it important to prevent mumps?

Getting your child vaccinated is important, because mumps can sometimes cause serious problems. It's also important because mumps is a disease that spreads easily, and outbreaks can easily occur.

Some parents worry that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. But many studies have been done, and no link has been found between vaccines and ASD.

How is mumps diagnosed?

Mumps is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and a history of exposure to the virus. If needed, a blood test can be done to confirm that you have mumps and rule out other illnesses.

The mumps virus can be identified with a viral culture using a sample of urine, saliva, or cerebrospinal fluid. These tests are rarely done.

If you think that you or your child has mumps, be sure to call ahead and explain the symptoms before you go to a doctor's office. It's important to stay away from other people as much as you can so that you don't spread the disease.

How can you care for your child when they have mumps?

  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Keep your child home from school, day care, or other public places until 5 days after swelling of the glands began.
  • Put an ice or heat pack (whichever feels better) on the swollen jaw for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice or heat pack and your child's skin.
  • Have your child suck on ice chips or ice treats such as Popsicles. Give your child soft foods that do not have to be chewed much.
  • Do not give your child sour foods or liquids. The salivary glands are very sore during mumps. Eating these foods will usually cause them to hurt more.

How is mumps spread?

Mumps is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you or shares food or drinks. You can spread the virus from 7 days before to 9 days after symptoms start. You are most likely to spread the virus 1 to 2 days before and 5 days after symptoms start.

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral infection that can cause painful swelling of the salivary glands, especially the glands between the ear and the jaw. Some people won't have gland swelling. They may feel like they have a bad cold or the flu instead. Mumps usually goes away on its own in about 10 days.

Mumps in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child is confused, does not know where they are, or is extremely sleepy or hard to wake up.
  • Your child has a seizure.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has belly pain.
  • Your child has a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your child's fever goes up.
  • Your child's testicles hurt and are tender.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not feel better after 10 days of home treatment.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.