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(Superficial Parotidectomy; Total Parotidectomy)

Pronounced: pa-RAH-tih-DEK-toh-mee
En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Reasons for Procedure | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor


Parotidectomy is surgery to remove all or part of the parotid gland. These glands make saliva. They are located on your jaw, in front of and below each ear.

Salivary Glands

Nucleus factsheet image
The parotid gland is the largest of the salivary glands.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Procedure

The surgery is done to:

  • Remove a tumor in the gland
  • Remove lymph nodes that could be cancerous
  • Treat recurrent infections in the gland

Possible Complications

If you are planning to have a parotidectomy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Numbness of the face and ear
  • Damage to the nerve that controls the movement of muscles in your face
  • Saliva drainage—Saliva may pool in the upper neck after surgery. It may also drain through the incision after it has been closed. This is temporary.
  • Frey’s syndrome—This happens when salivary nerve fibers grow into the sweat glands. While eating, some people may notice sweating on the side of the face where the surgery was done.
  • Fistula—This is an abnormal connection that may occur between the mouth, nose, throat, or skin.
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Swelling of your airway

Having risk factors for heart disease can increase your risk for heart attack or stroke during or after surgery. They include:

Discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.

What to Expect

Before the surgery, your doctor may:

  • Do a physical exam and review your medical history
  • Order blood tests and have x-rays taken
  • Talk to you about any medications, herbs, and dietary supplements that you may be taking—You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure, like:
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
    • Blood-thinning medications
    • Anti-platelet medications

Be sure that you have a ride to and from the hospital the day of your surgery.

General anesthesia will be used. It will block pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV or nasal mask.

The doctor will make a cut in front of the ear and down into the neck. The nerves in the area will be located and protected during surgery. There are two types of parotidectomy surgery. The type you will have depends on why the surgery is being done.

If you have a tumor and it is above the facial nerve, then a superficial parotidectomy is done. The tumor and affected tissue can usually be removed safely without harming the nerve.

If you have a tumor that surrounds or grows into the facial nerve, a total parotidectomy is done. The tumor, affected tissue, and parts of the nerve are removed.

After all tissue has been removed, the area will be closed with sutures. A drain will be placed behind your ear. It will be used to remove any fluids, such as blood and saliva, from the wound.

  • Superficial parotidectomy—3-4 hours
  • Total parotidectomy—5 hours

Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. Pain or soreness during recovery will be managed with pain medication.

This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is one day. If you have any problems, you will need to stay longer.

After the surgery is over, you will be moved to a recovery room. The hospital staff will monitor you. The staff may:

  • Check your facial movements by asking you to smile or pout
  • Show you how to care for the drain, because you will have it when you go home

When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Follow your doctor's instructions for keeping the wound clean. This may include changing bandages.
  • Follow the instructions for caring for your drain. It will usually be removed in 2-4 days.
  • You may also need to return to the hospital to have the sutures removed. This may be in 4-6 days. When the sutures are out, clean the area with mild soap and water.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.

Call Your Doctor

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, a lot of bleeding, or discharge from the surgery site
  • Nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medications you were given
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medications you were given
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Spitting or vomiting blood
  • New, unexplained symptoms

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery


American Cancer Society



Canadian Cancer Society


Canadian Society of Otolaryngology



Dictionary of cancer terms: parotidectomy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary/?CdrID=44770. Accessed July 23, 2013.

Ghorayeb B. Parotidectomy: frequently asked questions. Otolaryngology Houston website. Available at: http://www.ghorayeb.com/parotidectomyfaq.html. Updated May 24, 2013. Accessed July 23, 2013.

Parotidectomy. MedStar Georgetown University Hospital website. Available at: http://www.georgetownuniversityhospital.org/body_dept.cfm?id=1017. Accessed July 23, 2013.

Surgical procedures: neck dissection. Greater Baltimore Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.gbmc.org/body.cfm?id=198. Accessed July 23, 2013.

Last reviewed July 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD; Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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