Salivary Gland Disorders - Causes

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 04 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Prof Cathy Jackson, 04 Jul 2017

There is a wide range of possible causes for disorders of the salivary glands. Some of these are briefly discussed below.

The most common infection which affects the salivary glands is mumps. This is an infection with a virus, most often affecting the parotid glands, although it can affect the other salivary glands. It usually affects both parotid glands, so the swelling is on both sides of your face; however, in some cases it is just one-sided.

Other viruses can affect the salivary glands too. Examples include:

  • Coxsackievirus.
  • Herpes viruses.
  • Influenza and parainfluenza viruses.
  • Parvovirus B19.
  • HIV.

Infections with bacteria can less commonly occur in the salivary glands. This is due to infection spreading from the mouth and is more common in people who are otherwise unwell with other problems. Tuberculosis occasionally affects the salivary glands.

The chemicals in spit (saliva) can sometimes crystallise into a stone that can then block the salivary ducts. Some people form one or more small stones in a salivary gland. This occurs most commonly in people between the ages of 30 and 60 years, although it can occur at any age. Most stones occur in the tube (duct) which runs from the submandibular gland under the jaw. Stones block the duct, causing a backlog of saliva behind them, which results in a swelling.

When cells multiply out of normal control anywhere in the body, they cause a tumour which can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Tumours can occur in any of the salivary glands. Thankfully most tumours of salivary glands are not cancerous. About 8 out of 10 tumours are in the parotid gland, and about 8 out of 10 parotid tumours are not cancerous. All tumours need urgent investigation, however, and most are removed with an operation.

A generalised swelling of salivary glands can be caused by illness of other body systems (systemic illness). The most common of these is a condition called Sjögren's syndrome, which results in you having a very dry mouth.

Other illnesses which can cause swellings in the salivary glands include:

Further reading and references

For the past four months or so I have had a minor swelling of these glands. Not big enough to notice from the outside, but enough where I feel pressure on my throat and on bad days it's enough to...

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