Salivary Gland Disorders - Symptoms

What symptoms might I develop from a salivary gland disorder?

Possible symptoms suggesting salivary gland problems include:

  • Swelling of one or more gland. This would mean a swelling of part of your face. There may be redness (inflammation) of the skin over the swollen part.
  • Pain in the area of the salivary glands.
  • A dry mouth.
  • A bad taste in the mouth.
  • A raised temperature (fever).

Which symptoms for which cause?

The pattern of symptoms helps to give a clue as to the cause. For example:

  • Where is the swelling? We know where the salivary glands are, so a swelling in front of the ear suggests a problem with the parotid gland, whereas swelling along the line of the jaw suggests it is coming from the submandibular gland.
  • Are both sides of your face affected? A stone or tumour is more likely to affect one gland and one side, whereas infection such as mumps usually (although not always) affects both sides. (In mumps, typically one side is swollen first, followed by the other a couple of days later.)
  • Does it come and go or is it constant? Swellings caused by stones typically come on during or after eating, when saliva is flowing. They may then go down again. Swelling or pain which comes and goes is most likely to be caused by stones. In some cases, however, swelling caused by stones is there all the time (constant).
  • Is it painful? Most causes can result in pain. However, infections, particularly those due to bacteria, tend to be particularly painful, whereas stones cause a dull pain which tends to come and go. Sometimes the swelling is painless.
  • Did it come on suddenly or gradually? Stones and infections tend to cause a sudden swelling, whereas tumours tend to grow gradually over a period of weeks.
  • Is the swelling hard or soft? Infections tend to cause softer swellings and tumours tend to be hard and very solid-feeling. However, most causes of salivary gland swelling can cause a solid-feeling lump.
  • Is taste or lubrication of the mouth affected? Sjögren's syndrome causes you to have a dry mouth, as can infection. Infection may also cause a sensation of a bad taste in the mouth.
  • Do you feel generally unwell in yourself? If you have a high temperature (fever) and feel generally unwell in yourself then the cause is more likely to be an infection.
  • Have you got any other symptoms? Other symptoms in the rest of your body may suggest an underlying illness which is affecting the salivary glands. For example, dry eyes along with a dry mouth suggest Sjögren's syndrome. Extreme weight loss suggests anorexia. Gut symptoms might suggest coeliac disease, etc.

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Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
29429 (v1)
Last Checked:
04 July 2017
Next Review:
03 July 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.