Why does it hurt when you chew?

You’re eating your lunch and notice that the left side of your face has pain near your ear. When you gently touch the area, you notice that it’s swollen. Later, in the bathroom, you look in the mirror and that side of your face looks puffy. What’s causing this to happen? How can you make it go away?


Mumps is an infection that is caused by a virus and is spread easily through salvia. You can contract the illness if you breathe in droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze or if you share eating utensils with an infected person. Symptoms don’t appear until two to three weeks after exposure and you remain contiguous for about nine days after they start. The primary symptom is swollen salivary glands. Since these glands are located near your ears, it can cause your cheeks to look puffy. Other symptoms are pain in the affected gland, pain when chewing/swallowing, fever, headache, muscle aches, weakness/fatigue and loss of appetite. It’s important to note that some people don’t have any symptoms.

Complications from mumps are rare, but can be serious if they do occur. Most of the time, they involve some form of inflammation and swelling in different areas of the body. This can happen in the brain, which is known as encephalitis and can produce neurological problems and be life-threatening. It can also appear in the membranes/fluid that cover the brain and spinal cord, this is called meningitis. Another location is in the pancreas resulting in pancreatitis, which causes pain in the upper part of the stomach and nausea/vomiting. For boys and men, swelling can transpire in their testicles. This is orchitis and is very painful, however, it doesn’t usually lead to sterility. Besides swelling, complications of mumps can include hearing loss (that may or may not be permanent), heart problems and miscarriage for pregnant women.

TreatmentFast Facts - Mumps

Since mumps is caused by a virus, antibiotics aren’t effective in treating it. This means that you must treat the symptoms in order to provide relief and comfort for the sick individual. The best way to do this is by resting in an isolated room to help prevent the spread of the virus to others. You can take over-the-counter pain relievers/fever reducers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Using warm or cool compresses on swollen glands can help alleviate discomfort as well. It’s important to avoid foods that require you to chew. Instead, try soups and soft foods. In addition, don’t consume sour foods, like citrus fruits, since they increase salvia production. To prevent dehydration, be sure to take in plenty of water. For men, it’s a good idea to wear an athletic supporter and use cool compresses if you’re having any testicular discomfort.

If you start experiencing any complications, call your doctor and let them know that you think you have mumps and what your symptoms are. Since it’s so contagious, this will help them to devise a plan to have you come into the office to be seen while posing minimal risk to others. For children, you should call their doctor if they have symptoms of mumps and a fever of 103°F or higher, difficulty eating/drinking, confusion/disorientation, stomach pain and pain/swelling of the testicles (for boys).


There is an easy way to avoid mumps…the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. It’s usually given in two doses since one dose isn’t effective enough at preventing it. The first dose is usually given between 12 – 15 months old and the second is given between 4 – 6 years old. The goal is to have both prior to the child entering school. It’s important to note that while a third dose isn’t typically recommended, a recent study found that if there’s an outbreak, receiving a third shot decreases the risk of contracting the virus significantly. This is important to consider since the number of outbreaks has been increasing in recent years due to more and more people not vaccinating their children as a result of concerns about the vaccine being linked to the development of autism. This notion came from a now extensively discredited study done in 1998. The bottom line is that anyone who was born after 1957 and doesn’t have proof of immunity, such as history of having mumps, vaccination records indicating that you have been vaccinated or laboratory confirmation of immunity, should receive the vaccine.

Mumps aren’t something that you want to have, but most people recover without complications within a few weeks. The nice thing is that you don’t have to have it thanks to the vaccine. If you have any questions or concerns about mumps, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mumps page at https://www.cdc.gov/mumps/index.html