The parotid gland sits in your neck just in front of and below your ear. It’s main function is to produce saliva. The parotid gland can become swollen and tender if the saliva ducts become blocked, or if the glandular tissue becomes infected. This is usually a short term problem and occasionally requires antibiotics to resolve. Parotid swelling that doesn’t resolve, or gradually increases may be a tumor. Parotid tumors are usually benign (don’t spread to other parts of the body), but should usually be removed because of the risk that they could be cancerous, could become cancerous, or could continue to grow and cause problems.
The facial nerve provides innervation to the muscles that move you face. The nerve starts at your brain, comes out through a hole in your skull just below your ear, and then runs through the parotid gland, where it branches out to all of the different muscles of facial expression. Tumors growing in the Parotid gland are often very close to, or attached to branches of the facial nerve.
Parotidectomy is the surgical removal of the parotid gland, or part of the parotid gland. Typically this is done to remove a parotid tumor. An incision is made in front of the ear, extending down into the neck behind the jaw. The main branch of the facial nerve is identified, and the nerve and its branches are dissected free. The tumor and a surrounding cuff of parotid tissue is removed. Patients typically spend 1 night in the hospital after the procedure, and return to the office in one week to have their sutures removed. Typically there is not much pain post operation and patients can return to work/activity after 1 week.
Some patients do experience a temporary weakness of the facial nerve after surgery, but permanent weakness is very rare. Other risks of parotidectomy include Frey’s Syndrome (sweating when you eat), sialocele (a buildup of saliva under the skin), and scar formation. You should discuss these and other risks with your surgeon before the procedure.
If you or someone you know has a parotid tumor, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Katin or Dr. Gawthrop to discuss the surgery further. Both doctors perform the procedure frequently and would be happy to answer any of your questions.