Lymph nodes are present throughout your body. They are an important part of your immune system. Lymph nodes help your body recognize and fight germs, infections, and other foreign substances.
The term "swollen glands" refers to the enlargement of one or more lymph nodes. The medical name for swollen lymph nodes is lymphadenopathy.
In a child, a node is considered enlarged if it is more than 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) wide.
Common Locations of Swollen Lymph Nodes
Common areas where the lymph nodes can be felt (with the fingers) include:
- Neck (there is a chain of lymph nodes on either side of the front of the neck, both sides of the neck, and down each side of the back of the neck)
- Under the jaw and chin
- Behind the ears
- On the back of the head.
Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes
Infections are the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. Infections that can cause them include:
- Abscessed or impacted tooth
- Ear infection
- Colds, flu, and other infections
- Swelling (inflammation) of gums (gingivitis)
- Mouth sores
- Sexually transmitted illness (STI)
- Skin infections.
Immune or autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Cancers that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:
- Hodgkin disease
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Many other cancers may also cause this problem.
Certain medicines can cause swollen lymph nodes, including:
- Seizure medicines such as phenytoin
- Typhoid immunization.
Which lymph nodes are swollen depends on the cause and the body parts involved. Swollen lymph nodes that appear suddenly and are painful are usually due to injury or infection. Slow, painless swelling may be due to cancer or a tumor.
Painful lymph nodes are generally a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The soreness usually goes away in a couple of days, without treatment. The lymph node may not return to its normal size for several weeks.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- Your lymph nodes do not get smaller after several weeks or they continue to get larger.
- They are red and tender.
- They feel hard, irregular, or fixed in place.
- You have a fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss.
- Any node in a child is larger than 1 centimeter (a little less than half-inch) in diameter.
Treatment of Swollen Lymph Nodes
Treatment depends on the cause of the swollen nodes.
- The most common cause is a nearby skin or tissue infection or a viral infection. These usually resolve by themselves.
- Testing may be needed when there are warning signs or other symptoms or risk factors of concern.
- A biopsy may be needed when lymph node swelling does not resolve within 3 or 4 weeks.
- Swollen lymph nodes. 2022. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003097.htm