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Our salivary glands secrete one to two liters of saliva every day. Saliva is necessary to lubricate the food and therefore helps in swallowing. It also aids in the digestion of food.

There are three salivary glands: 

  • The parotid gland is present in front of your ear. 
  • The submandibular salivary gland is present in the floor of the mouth
  • The sublingual gland is present beneath the tongue. 

Every gland has its associated duct, which is a tube-like structure that transfers saliva from the gland to the mouth.

Possible Causes Of Swelling

Salivary glands can become swollen for any of the following reasons.

Sialolithiasis – this means an obstruction of the duct of a salivary gland, usually by a stone. It is the most common cause of swollen salivary glands. Saliva contains some salts in it. These salts sometimes crystallize and a small stone is formed which then blocks the duct. This blockage causes a backup of saliva into the gland and results in swelling and pain. There is a good chance of bacterial infection in patients with a blocked salivary duct. Bacteria usually love to colonize behind the obstruction and infect the gland tissue because outflow is stopped.

Sialadenitis — this means a bacterial infection of a salivary gland. It commonly occurs after sialolithiasis but it can also happen independently. Poor oral hygiene is also a cause of sialolithiasis. Bacterial infection results in the formation of pus inside the gland. This pus comes out through the duct and gives a foul taste. Sialadenitis is associated with fever, swelling and severe pain in the gland.

If the swelling subsides after taking antibiotics and comes back after some time, this means that you have recurrent sialadenitis and the infection didn’t resolve completely the first time. The reason is either you didn’t take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed or the antibiotic wasn’t strong enough.

Viral Infection — Certain viruses like mumps virus, flu and the Epstein Barr virus can also cause an infection of the salivary glands.

Sjogren’s syndrome — can also cause swollen salivary glands. This syndrome also has associated symptoms like dryness in the mouth, nose and throat.

Tumors can also arise in the salivary glands and cause a swelling. A tumor can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

The most common benign tumor is pleomorphic adenoma. It usually effects the parotid glands. Malignant or cancerous tumors include muco-epidermoid carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. The tumor usually grows slowly and causes a painless swelling.

Treatment

The treatment of salivary gland swelling is decided after determination of the exact cause.

If the cause of swelling is an impacted salivary stone, then the stone is removed manually by the doctor. Antibiotics are also given to prevent the chance of a superimposed infection.

If the swelling is caused by a bacterial infection of the salivary gland, antibiotics are given along with analgesics for pain relief. Warm compressors should also be applied. The patient is advised to drink lots of fluids and to maintain good oral hygiene.

Make sure that you take the complete course of antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. If the antibiotics are not taken properly, there’s a good chance of recurrence.

If a tumor of the salivary gland is diagnosed, the treatment is performed accordingly. Surgical excision is usually done in most cases but chemo and radiation can also be used depending upon the type of tumor.

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