Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 05, 2023
3 min read

Mumps is an infection caused by a virus that’s easily spread through saliva and mucus. It usually happens in kids who haven’t been immunized.

Mumps can affect any part of the body, but it mostly affects saliva-making glands below and in front of the ears (called parotid glands). Those glands can swell if infected. In fact, puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw are the telltale signs of the virus.

Mumps used to be common. But since the introduction of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine in 1967, it’s been almost fully wiped out.


Symptoms don’t begin until about 2 weeks after you’re infected. The classic signs are pain and swelling in your face and jaw. You may notice other symptoms a few days before that, including:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Loss of appetite

  • Muscle aches

  • Weakness

A virus called a paramyxovirus causes mumps. It’s very easy to catch it from someone else if you come in contact with their saliva or mucus. Infected people can spread it by:

  • Coughing, sneezing, or talking

  • Sharing cups and utensils with others

  • Not properly washing their hands and touching items that other people then touch

  • Close contact from certain sports or kissing

If you get mumps, there’s no treatment. That’s because antibiotics don’t work on a virus. You have to simply let it run its course. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to help manage you or your child’s symptoms. Their suggestions may include:

  • Use cold or warm packs on swollen areas

  • Drink lots of fluids

  • Eat soft foods

  • Rest

  • Take over-the-counter, non-aspirin pain relievers

If you think you have mumps or have been around someone who has, see your doctor to get tested right away.


It doesn’t happen often, but mumps can lead to some serious problems. That’s more likely if you get it as an adult than a child. Some possible complications are:

  • Inflammation of the ovaries, breast tissue, and testicles in males who’ve already gone through puberty

  • Inflammation in the brain, called encephalitis

  • Inflammation in the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord, called meningitis

  • Hearing loss

  • Heart problems

  • Miscarriage if infected during pregnancy

  • Pancreatitis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  recommends children get two doses of the vaccine. They should get the first at 12-15 months old and the second between 4 and 6 years. Teens and adults should make sure their MMR vaccinations are up to date.

If you haven’t been vaccinated, you can get mumps. Some people have it without knowing it. Most recover completely in a few weeks.