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Swollen Lymph Nodes In Neck – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Assist. Prof. Dr. Bakht Aziz

6 min read

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Swollen lymph nodes in neck can be extremely painful but they appear as the body’s natural response against illnesses and infections. Lymph nodes or lymph glands are bean-sized lumps of tissue composed of white blood cells. The human body includes hundreds of lymph nodes located in different areas.

Lymph nodes constitute a major part of the human body’s immune system, where their primary job is to help fight infections and trap viruses and bacteria by filtering lymph fluid. They do this with the aid of the immune cells they are composed of.

The average size of a normal lymph node is usually less than half an inch. In simpler words, it is about the size of a pea or a baked bean.

Swollen lymph nodes symptoms

The lymphatic system is an intricate network of organs, vessels, and lymph nodes spread throughout the human body. One of the first noticeable symptoms of swollen lymph nodes can be swelling itself. Lymph nodes most commonly swell in the neck, the armpit, and the groin region. And the swelling can be observed if the other side where lymph nodes are located seems normal.

Another noticeable symptom is tenderness and slight pain in the lymph nodes. Lymphadenopathy or swelling in lymph nodes itself is a symptom of an illness or infection in the human body. Lymph nodes located in different areas of the human body differ in consistency, and size, so the reason behind their inflammation or swelling also varies. Depending on the infection the human body is encountering other signs and symptoms of swollen lymph nodes include: 

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Night sweats

In some cases, lymph nodes swell in one specific area of the human body, while in other cases they can begin swelling throughout the body as well. When this happens, it usually indicates the presence of serious infections like mononucleosis or HIV. Other infections that may cause swollen lymph nodes in the entire body include immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus.  

In worst-case scenarios, hard, motionless, and rapidly growing nodes are indicators of cancers such as lymphoma. One of the most common places in the human body where swollen lymph nodes occur as a sign of lymphoma includes the neck. Other areas of the body where lymphoma can occur include the groin area and the armpits. In any case, if the swelling in the lymph node subsists for longer than usual, a visit to the doctor is very crucial. 

What causes swollen lymph nodes?

The human lymphatic system works as our body’s sewage system. It regulates the fluid level in the body tissues, removing any fluid that leaks out of the blood vessels. The fundamental task of lymph nodes is monitoring the flow of lymph into them. They also produce cells and antibodies which are responsible for protecting the human body against various diseases.

The enlargement of the lymph nodes indicates that the human body is fighting an infection, and some common areas where enlarged lymph nodes appear are the neck, the area behind the ears, and the chin. Normally, the swelling subsides after a few days when the body is able to counter the infection.

But if the pain persists and the lymph nodes do not return to their normal size, a visit to the doctor is highly advised. There are a number of causes for swollen lymph nodes. Some of the most common diseases or infections that cause swelling in the lymph nodes are as follows:

  • Ear infections
  • Tonsillitis
  • Mouth sores
  • Mononucleosis
  • Influenza or cold
  • Impacted or abscessed tooth
  • Swelling of gums or gingivitis
  • Skin or wound infections such as cellulitis 
  • Measles
  • Strep throat

Other uncommon infections that cause swollen lymph nodes are tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis (a parasitic infection that results from contact with the fecal discharge of an infected cat or eating undercooked meat), and cat scratch fever (a bacterial infection resulting from a cat scratch or bite).

Sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, are also a cause of swollen lymph nodes, along with a number of the immune system or autoimmune disorders. These include rheumatoid arthritis or RA, human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, and lupus.

Since swelling in the lymph nodes in some cases can also be an indication of cancer, the cancers that cause swollen lymph nodes are mostly lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and leukemia.

Swollen lymph nodes in neck

If a person comes down with a viral throat infection or a cold, the lymph nodes on the neck might double in size, leading to swollen lymph nodes, also known as adenopathy or lymphadenopathy, the conditions make lymph nodes much larger than normal lymph nodes.

These swollen lymph nodes are tender, soft, and most painful. But surprisingly, swollen lymph nodes are a good sign. They are the human body’s natural reaction to infection or illness. So their presence indicates adequate functionality of the body’s immune system which in turn helps clear away any infection or unwanted viruses and bacteria.

Other places where they can occur

Depending on the location of the infection, swollen lymph nodes can also occur in one or both armpits. These are referred to as axillary adenopathy or axillary lymphadenopathy. Other areas where swelling in the lymph nodes can occur are the chest, abdomen, legs, under the jaw, and the groin.

Swollen lymph nodes treatment

Swollen lymph nodes are commonly caused by a virus, requiring no treatment. The viral infection runs its course and in the due time, swollen lymph nodes shrink back to their normal size. For cases where swollen lymph nodes are caused by other reasons, treatment depends on what the reasons are.

First, the doctor carries out a diagnosis by discussing the patient’s symptoms and medical history. A number of medical tests such as an ultrasound, an X-ray, a CT, or an MRI scan can be carried out. If there are other signs, a doctor may conduct a lymph node biopsy. Upon getting the results back, the doctor will be able to now deduce the correct treatment.

In case of an infection, treatment depends on whether the infection is bacterial or not. If it is, swollen lymph nodes can be treated using antibiotics. The doctor gives a proper plan that indicates the time and the number of days for which the antibiotics have to be taken.

This medication regimen, if followed by the patient religiously, helps them get better in no time. If swollen lymph nodes are caused by an HIV infection, which manifests mostly in the groin region, antiretroviral medication is used for the treatment. This treatment comprises special medications that reduce symptoms and prevent further transmission of HIV.

If there is swelling in the tissues, the doctor usually prescribes an anti-inflammatory medicine. For immune disorders, treatment targeting the specific condition is carried out. Similarly, for cancerous lymph nodes, treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.

How to treat swollen lymph nodes in neck naturally

Following are the ways in which you can treat swollen lymph nodes in neck naturally at home:

1. Use a warm compress

One of the most common ways to treat swollen lymph nodes naturally is by using a warm compress. A heating pad or even a microwaveable rice sock are some easy ways to do a warm compress at home. If you do not have any of them, using a warm washcloth also works. The warm compress has to be applied gently to the affected area.

2. Take OTC medications

Another way to treat swollen lymph nodes is to use over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen. It is, however, important to be cautious when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Children recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms are not advised to take aspirin. Although these treatments do not treat swelling in the lymph nodes, they help relieve the pain temporarily, giving the body enough time to fight infections.

3. Get ample rest

Last but not least get as much rest as possible. Here is how getting enough rest can help treat swollen lymph nodes in neck. Your body is busy fighting the infection or illness 24/7, and so it gets really tired. Therefore, if you get enough rest it makes up for the energy used in fighting the infection which in turn helps your body recover.

4. Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids like water and fresh juices can also speed up the recovery process. Fluids give your body enough energy to fight off the infection. Hence, you need to watch your fluid intake when recovering from an illness or infection. That means around six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of water or other fluids every day. Staying hydrated will help your body recover faster and put an end to those pesky swollen lymph nodes in your neck for good.

How can you prevent swollen lymph nodes?

Since swollen lymph nodes are a sign that the human body is battling an infection or illness, actively preventing them is not a good idea. But since they cause a lot of discomforts, the easiest preventive measure against them can be preventing oneself from catching common viruses like the flu or a cold. Here is how you can do it:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after eating anything
  • Avoid touching your nose and eyes unnecessarily
  • Maintain a distance from people who are suffering from cold and flu
  • Use disinfectant solutions to clean common access surfaces in the home and the workplace frequently
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat healthily and indulge in exercising or any other physical activity

Practicing good dental hygiene habits to keep the gums and the teeth clean and healthy is also a good way to prevent lymphadenopathy. Other than that, using protection while engaging in sexual activities, getting flu shots and other vaccinations for conditions such as shingles and tuberculosis, and viral infections, also helps.

Feral animals carry a lot of diseases, so avoiding them, or being careful when interacting with them is really helpful in preventing infections and diseases that can lead to swelling of lymph nodes.

Consult a doctor

You can consult an ENT specialist for the treatment of swollen lymph nodes and similar conditions. oladoc.com makes it easy to book an appointment with top ENT specialists in major cities of Pakistan like Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, etc. Book your appointments online or call our helpline 04238900939.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Assist. Prof. Dr. Bakht Aziz
Assist. Prof. Dr. Bakht Aziz - Author Dr. Bakht Aziz is a highly acclaimed ENT specialist, who has a massive reputation in the field of medical consultancy. He is considered among the best ENT Specialists & Surgeons in Lahore.
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