Salivary gland infections
Salivary gland infections affect the glands that produce saliva (spit). The infection may be due to bacteria or viruses.
There are three pairs of major salivary glands:
- Parotid glands. These are the two largest glands. One is located in each cheek over the jaw in front of the ears. Inflammation of one or more of these glands is called parotitis, or parotiditis.
- Submandibular glands. These two glands located at the back of the mouth on both sides of the jaw.
- Sublingual glands. These two glands are located are under the floor of the mouth.
All of the salivary glands empty saliva into the mouth. The saliva enters the mouth through ducts that open into the mouth in different places.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Salivary gland infections are somewhat common, and they can return in some people.
Viral infections such as mumps often affect the salivary glands. Mumps most often involves parotid salivary gland). Mumps is a rare problem today because of the MMR vaccine.
Bacterial infections are most often the result a:
- Blockage from salivary duct stones.
- Poor cleanliness in the mouth (oral hygiene)
- Low amounts of water in the body, most often while in the hospital.
- Chronic illness
- Abnormal tastes, foul tastes
- Decreased ability to open the mouth
- Dry mouth
- Mouth or facial pain, especially when eating
- Redness over the side of the face or the upper neck
- Swelling of the face (particularly in front of the ears, below the jaw, or on the floor of the mouth)
Signs and tests
Your health care provider or dentist will do an exam to look for enlarged glands. You may also have pus that drains into the mouth. The gland may be painful.
A CT scan, MRI scanor ultrasound may be done if the doctor suspects an abscess.
In some cases, no treatment is needed.
Treatment from your health care provider may include:
- Antibiotics if you have a fever or pus drainage, or if the infection is caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are not useful against viral infections.
- Surgery or aspiration to drain an abscess if you have one.
Self-care steps you can take at home to help with recovery include:
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth and floss well at least twice a da. This may help with healing and prevent an infection from spreading.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water rinses (1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water) to ease pain keep the mouth moist.
- Stop smoking if you are a smoker, to speed up healing.
- Drink lots of water and use sugar-free lemon drops to increase the flow of saliva and reduce swelling.
- Massaging the gland with heat.
Most salivary gland infections go away on their own or are cured with treatment. Some infections will return. Complications are not common.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if:
- You have symptoms of a salivary gland infection
- You've been diagnosed with a salivary gland infection and symptoms get worse.
- Get medical help right away if you have a high fever, trouble breathing, or swallowing problems.
In many cases, salivary gland infections cannot be prevented. Good oral hygiene may prevent some cases of bacterial infection.
Elluru RG. Physiology of the salivary glands. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 84.
Rogers J, McCaffrey TV. Inflammatory disorders of the salivary glands. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 86.
Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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