Salivary Gland Inflammation (Sialadenitis)
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If you have pain and swelling under your jaw or on the side of your face, you may be experiencing a salivary disorder such as salivary gland inflammation (sialadenitis).
Other common causes of pain and/or swelling include:
Sialosis (an enlarged salivary gland associated with metabolic disorders like diabetes)
Salivary duct stricture, or narrowing
Radiation exposure, if you’ve been treated with radiation for cancer
A less common cause could be a tumor.
University of Iowa Health Care otolaryngologists are experts in diagnosing and treating salivary gland inflammation and other salivary gland disorders.
Our team was among the first in Iowa to offer sialendoscopy as a minimally invasive treatment for salivary gland disorders. Sialendoscopy is one of many tools we use to offer a tailored approach to diagnosing and treating these disorders.
Other options include:
Diagnostic ultrasound (maybe supplemented by imaging of the salivary glands, called sialography)
Advanced imaging (CT or MRI)
Salivary gland inflammation symptoms and diagnosis
You have three major sets of salivary glands located in front of your ears (parotid), under your tongue (sublingual), and under your chin (submandibular).
Symptoms of salivary gland inflammation
If you have a swollen, inflamed salivary gland caused by a blocked salivary duct, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Soreness, swelling, and tenderness around your jaw, face, or neck
Pain while eating
Dry mouth (xerostomia)
Bad taste in your mouth
An untreated infection can progress to an abscess: a swollen, painful pocket filled with pus.
How UI Health Care experts diagnose salivary gland inflammation
For your convenience, some providers prefer your initial visit to be done through telehealth.
This telehealth visit is designed to gather information, educate you about your options, and prepare for an in-clinic appointment that is tailored based on your evaluation. During the telehealth visit, you’ll discuss your symptoms, and your provider will review any relevant images and videos from Iowa Head and Neck Protocols with you.
At your in-person appointment, the surgeon will examine you with an ultrasound and perform other procedures as needed.
You may also have an exam called sialography. Our team has performed more than 500 of these specialized procedures. This procedure is designed to be diagnostic but can also be used to treat your condition.
Your otolaryngologist collaborates with UI Health Care experts in radiology to perform the sialography.
Your provider inserts a thin tube into the opening of the duct.
A small amount of contrast dye is infused through the tube.
X-rays are taken to evaluate the salivary ductal system.
The narrowings of the duct may be dilated at the same time.
Salivary gland inflammation treatment from UI Health Care
Common causes of salivary gland inflammation are salivary stones, a narrowing in the salivary duct, previous treatment with radiation, and autoimmune-related conditions.
The UI Health Care team provides treatment targeted to preserve your salivary gland function when appropriate.
Salivary stones are hard mineral deposits that form in a salivary gland and can block the flow of saliva.
If you have salivary stones, your provider might recommend:
Home care: Addressing your salivary stones at home could include staying hydrated, gently massaging your salivary glands, and applying moist heat. This might be an option if you don’t have severe symptoms or aren’t a candidate for more aggressive treatment.
Sialendoscopy: Your otolaryngologist may place a small endoscope into your salivary duct to get a clear view of the stone. They may be able to break up and remove the stone using the endoscope. Other instruments that they might use include a laser, a tiny wire basket, or small forceps.
Gland removal: While your otolaryngologist will work with you to try to preserve functioning salivary glands, some people may choose to have a gland removed.
Sialendoscopy and sialography both require technical skill. UI Health Care experts are known internationally for their expertise using these tools.
If you have a narrowed duct blocking drainage of saliva, your otolaryngologist might recommend one of the following minimally invasive approaches:
Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications
A tiny balloon or plastic tube placed in the duct via sialendoscopy or sialography
Steroid infusion may be done in clinic under topical anesthesia.
If a tumor appears to be causing your salivary gland inflammation, your otolaryngologist may use a small needle to take a tissue sample (fine needle aspiration biopsy).
Examination of the tissue will help determine whether the tumor is non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).
Malignant tumors may be treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination. Your otolaryngologist collaborates with a multidisciplinary team of UI Health Care cancer experts to treat these tumors.
Inflamed or swollen salivary glands can also be caused by some diseases, including Sjogren’s syndrome.
If you're diagnosed with one of these conditions, the UI Health Care team includes rheumatologists and other specialists. Your otolaryngologist works closely with them as part of your comprehensive care team.
Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer and other cancers can damage your salivary glands. This can lead to dry mouth and increased risk of tooth decay.
Our otolaryngologists collaborate with UI Health Care experts in dentistry to protect your teeth and work to address your discomfort.