Mumps is a viral infection of childhood that affects the salivary glands, most commonly the parotid glands, located near the ear (hence its medical name, parotitis). The illness begins with a fever, headache, loss of appetite, malaise, and muscle aches. Pain in the ear and under the jaw begins about twenty-four hours later. Over the next one to three days, the salivary glands swell and become very tender. The swelling typically lessens over a course of three to seven days.

The illness is spread by contact with infected saliva. It is somewhat less contagious than either measles or chickenpox. Once a child is infected with the virus, it can incubate for two to three-and-a-half weeks before signs of infection appear. A child is contagious from about six days before the onset of illness to nine days after the glands have become swollen.

Mumps is most common in children from age five through fifteen. It is usually self-limiting and runs its course without complications. One possible long-term complication that does exist occurs in boys, when the virus attacks the testicles. This may result only in pain and swelling initially, but in some cases it can cause infertility the long run, especially if a boy contracts the disease as a teenager or young adult.


The first signs that a child is coming down with mumps usually include some combination of the following:

  • An all-over achy and chilled feeling.

  • Headache.

  • Low to moderate fever.

    Twelve to twenty-four hours after these initial symptoms, a child with mumps will have the characteristic signs of swollen salivary glands:

  • Pain upon swallowing, especially swallowing acidic foods.

  • Pain and swelling in the jaw and under the ear or ears. The affected areas will be quite sensitive when touched.

  • Possible loss of appetite.

  • Conventional Treatment

    Treatment of mumps is aimed at helping your child feel comfortable through the illness. Acetaminophen (in the form of Tylenol, Tempra, and other medications) or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, and others) will bring down fever and ease the headache, muscle aches, and malaise that accompany the disease.

    Note: In excessive doses, acetaminophen can cause liver damage. If you give your child acetaminophen, follow age-appropriate dosage instructions carefully. Giving ibuprofen with food is advised to prevent possible stomach upset.

    Do not give a child aspirin if you
    think he may have the mumps.The combination of aspirin and a viral infection
    has been linked to the development of Reye’s syndrome, a dangerous liver

    Because mumps is a viral illness, antibiotic therapy is ineffective and therefore not appropriate.

    Warm or cool compresses applied to the site of the swollen glands may help relieve the pain and tenderness.

    If your son has a case of mumps that causes testicular pain, bed rest is particularly important. It may help lessen the pain if you support the scrotum by using cotton held in place by an adhesive-tape “bridge” between the thighs, and/or if you apply ice packs. In rare cases, where pain and swelling are extremely severe, a corticosteroid may be prescribed to combat these symptoms.

    Dietary Guidelines

    Because mumps causes pain when chewing or swallowing, a diet of soft foods may minimize discomfort.

    Avoid giving your child citrus fruits or other acidic foods, which can be painful to swallow.

    To keep your child well hydrated, encourage him
    to take plenty of fluids. Offer fruit-juice popsicles, spring water, herbal
    teas, soups, and diluted fruit juices. Once the acute phase of the infection
    has subsided, immune-boosting astragalus and vegetable soup is very good for
    supporting recovery (see THERAPEUTIC RECIPES).

    Eliminate fats as much as possible. Fats are difficult to digest under normal circumstances, and are even harder to digest when the digestive system is weakened by infection. Undigested fats contribute to a toxic internal environment.

    Nutritional Supplements

    For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.

    Beta-carotene is the precursor to vitamin A, which helps heal mucous membranes. Give your child a double dose of beta-carotene, twice daily, for ten days.

    Vitamin C and bioflavonoids help to stimulate the immune system. Three to four times a day, give your child one dose of mineral ascorbate vitamin C with an equal amount of bioflavonoids, for one week. (If your child develops loose stool as a result of taking this supplement, cutback on the dosage.) The following week, give him the same dosage, but two to three times a day. During the third week, give the same dosage, once or twice a day. Then continue to give one-half dose daily for the fourth week, and three times a week for the next two weeks.

    Zinc stimulates the immune system and promotes healing. Give your child one dose of zinc, twice a day, for one week to ten days.

    Note: Excessive amounts of zinc can result in nausea and vomiting. Be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage.

    Herbal Treatment

    For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.

    A tincture of arnica or peppermint oil, used as a rub, can help to relieve headache. Rub arnica tincture into the temple or forehead area; rub peppermint oil into the temple area. Be very careful to keep tinctures away from your child’s eyes and do not use them on broken skin.

    Note: If you are using peppermint oil as well as a homeopathic preparation, allow one hour between the two. Otherwise, the strong smell of the mint may interfere with the action of the homeopathic remedy.

    If your child is feeling very restless, give him a cup of chamomile tea, twice a day, as needed.

    Echinacea and goldenseal combination formula helps to fight viruses and boost the immune system. It also soothes mucous membranes. Give your child one dose, three times a day, for up to one week, until the fever is resolved and his salivary glands have returned to their normal size.

    Shiitake mushrooms have immune-stimulating properties. They may be taken in capsule form. Give a child over twelve years old one capsule, three times a day, for up to ten days.

    Castor oil packs can be soothing to swollen glands. Heat castor oil to a soothing (but not too hot) temperature, soak clean cotton cloths in it, and apply these compresses as often as needed.


    Choose a symptom-specific remedy from the suggestions that follow, and give your child one dose of a 30x or 9c potency, four times a day, until the symptoms improve. If the remedy produces no improvement within forty-eight hours, try another remedy.

    Belladonna 30x or 9c is for a child whose right gland is much more swollen than the left. This child has a high fever, a flushed face, and is easily chilled.

    Bryonia 30x or 9c is also for a child whose right gland is more swollen than the left, and who is probably also constipated. This child’s symptoms are worse with movement.

    Mercurius solubilis 12x or 6c is for a child with swollen glands and a sore throat. A boy may have testicular swelling as well.

    Phytolacca 12x or 6c is for a child whose glands are swollen and hard, and who has pain that goes into his ears. This child will not want anything hot to drink.

    Rhus toxicodendron 30x or 9c is for a child whose left gland is much more swollen than the right, and who may feel stiff and achy in the morning.


    For the locations of acupressure points on a child’s body, see ADMINISTERING AN ACUPRESSURE TREATMENT.

    Four Gates helps to relax an uncomfortable child.

    Large Intestine 4 controls the head. This acupressure point can be helpful for relieving the headache that may accompany mumps.

    General Recommendations

    A child with the mumps should be isolated until the swelling of the glands has gone down, to decrease the possibility of spreading the disease.

    Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. The increased metabolic rate that results from a fever causes the body to lose fluids rapidly.

    Give your child an echinacea and goldenseal combination formula.

    Select and administer a symptom-specific homeopathic remedy.

    Apply warm or cool compresses to ease the discomfort of the swollen glands.

    Use an herbal arnica or peppermint oil rub to help relieve headache.

    If your child is uncomfortable and restless, give him soothing and calming chamomile tea.

    Give your child vitamin C with bioflavonoids, zinc (once your child is eating meals), and beta-carotene.

    If your child has the mumps, be alert for signs that a secondary infection may be developing. If symptoms seem to get worse, or if new symptoms develop, seek medical treatment.


    As much as possible, try to keep your child from contact with contagious children.

    A vaccine that protects against mumps is
    available, usually given in the form of a combination vaccine that also
    protects against measles and rubella (the MMR vaccine). Doctors recommend
    that this vaccine, which is given by injection, be administered when a child
    is approximately fifteen months old, and that an additional dose be given
    later, when a child is either four to six years old (before entering school)
    or between eleven and thirteen years old (in middle school or junior high

    Dosage Guidelines
    Herbal Medicine
    Bach Flowers

    From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

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    Written by Janet Zand LAc OMD

    Explore Wellness in 2021