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What are Parotid Glands?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Parotid glands are saliva-producing glands located just in front of the ears. They deliver saliva to the mouth through ducts located behind the upper teeth. These glands are the largest of the salivary glands. The other major salivary glands are the sublingual and submandibular glands, and these glands are supplemented by numerous smaller glands inside the mouth.

Like the other salivary glands, the parotid glands produce saliva, which helps people to chew and swallow. A lack of saliva can cause dry mouth, which feels uncomfortable and makes it hard to eat. Saliva also serves as a lubricant which can help prevent damage to the soft mucus membranes of the mouth, reducing the risk of painful injuries and infections. When the salivary glands are not working properly, people tend to notice.

People who are interested in a bit of experimentation can stimulate their parotid glands by squirting lemon or lime juice into their mouths. The tart juice will cause the glands to release a flood of saliva, indicating that they are in working order. Doctors sometimes use this test to check on the function of the salivary glands when they suspect that a patient may be experiencing inflammation or clogging.

One common condition involving the parotid glands is parotitis, an inflammation of the glands. This inflammation can be caused by a number of things, including mumps, a childhood disease which used to be quite common. When the parotid glands become inflamed, they swell up, causing facial pain and a distinct distortion of the face around the jaw. The glands can also be be blocked by infections or calcifications, causing inflammation and pain.

In some instances, tumors can develop in the parotid glands. These tumors may be benign or cancerous, but removal is usually recommended, because of the facial pain which can be caused by tumor growth. In addition, a major facial nerve runs through these glands, and a tumor could put pressure on that nerve, causing damage. Tumor removal must be done carefully because of this nerve, as a slip of the scalpel could sever or severely damage this nerve.

Another condition which can involve the parotid glands is Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which the body starts to attack the glands which produce tears and saliva. Tears and saliva are both very important secretions, and this syndrome can cause serious complications for the patient if it is not addressed. Medications and surgery can be used to manage the condition.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Aug 21, 2011

When my mother was young back in the 1950s, she got the mumps. The vaccine for it wasn’t introduced until a decade later, so it was common back then.

Her parotid glands swelled up, and she had large bumps below both cheeks. She said that it hurt to chew and swallow. She got weak and tired, and she also got a fever.

Her doctor told her that it would just have to run its course, because it was a viral infection instead of a bacterial one. He also told her that she would be contagious for about two weeks, and if she sneezed or coughed, anyone nearby could catch it.

She recovered in about two weeks. She was one of the lucky ones, because mumps can sometimes cause worse conditions, like hearing loss or encephalitis.

By Oceana — On Aug 20, 2011

My allergy medicine affected my parotid glands. I had to take a daily antihistamine and decongestant in order to breathe easily, but it came with consequences.

The medicine definitely did what it was supposed to, which was dry up my runny nose and unclog my sinuses. However, it dried up things a little too much. My mouth and throat became uncomfortably dry.

Also, the antihistamine stopped my eyes from leaking because of allergies. It did the job too well, because they felt scratchy from lack of moisture.

I had to switch to a less powerful allergy medication. Though I do suffer from some symptoms of allergies that I did not have while taking the stronger one, I would rather deal with them than have to live with dry eyes and a dry mouth.

By seag47 — On Aug 19, 2011

I have Sjögren’s syndrome, so I am familiar with what it does to the parotid glands. I suffer from dry eyes and a dry mouth. Since there is no cure for my condition, my doctor can only treat the symptoms.

I am on medication to relieve the dryness. It helps a good bit, but there are side effects. Plus, I have to take this medicine every day.

My condition makes me tired all the time. My joints hurt, and I feel much older than I am. The lack of saliva and tears makes me feel parched, like I have been in the sun all day, and this adds to my fatigue.

My doctor told me to let him know if the medications to lubricate my eyes and mouth stop working. He said it’s very important to keep these areas moist.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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