Autoimmune diseases can affect nearly every organ by producing autoantibodies (antibodies against ‘self”). When these autoantibodies target the exocrine glands (mucous-producing glands), they underproduce (in the case of salivary glands)  saliva. The exocrine glands include the salivary glands that surround the mouth.

These glands produce the saliva used to moisten your mouth, initiate digestion and help protect  teeth from decay. The largest of the salivary gland, the parotid glands, are located on either side of the face, in front under and behind the ear, draining the saliva they produce in to the mouth.

The dark, dry mouth is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.  Calcium stones can also exist, blocking the flow of saliva from the parotid gland to the mouth. If there are bacteria and the passage of saliva is blocked, infection can develop in the parotid glands: parotitis.

Parotitis is difficult to diagnose through physical examination; and it is not uncommon for the condition to be misdiagnosed as mumps. But, when mumps are diagnosed several time in a year, further work-up is called for.

This condition is quite painful especially on eating. People who have infectious parotitis, quickly learn to avoid lemons and tomatoes which stimulate salivation and bring about pain. However, patients who get parotitis learn that parotitis can sometimes be PREVENTED by sucking on sour candies and stimulating salivation.

One of the 2 parotid glands

The pain of parotitis can be alleviated with acetaminophen or other pain relievers, prescription or non-prescription. Warm, moist compresses are also used. The swelling, the chipmunk cheeks (!) will decrease as infection subsides.

The infection is often treated with antibiotics; sometimes, only after a parotid tumor is ruled out. For repeated, severe cases of parotitis, removal of the parotid gland may be considered. I say considered, because the trigeminal (facial) nerve is in the area, making this surgery risky; not life-threatening, but risking facial palsy.

Salivary Gland Infection (

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