Your lymph nodes are a key part of your immune system. Lymph vessels transfer lymph fluid throughout the body using the lymph nodes. These nodes are essentially a filter that helps to get rid of harmful substances. They are the home of immune cells that are activated whenever you have an infection.
Your lymph nodes are quite small and shaped like a kidney. When you have an infection, your lymph nodes may swell as they try to fight the infection in your body. Because of this, you may experience swollen lymph nodes in the neck. If you cannot figure out the cause of the swelling or it does not go away, you should make sure to go to your doctor to get checked out.
What Makes Swollen Lymph Nodes in Neck Happen?
Your lymph nodes are placed throughout your body near the surface of your skin. Even when they are not swollen, you can still feel them. They are located on either side of your groin, under your jaw, in your armpits, on either side of your neck and above your collarbone. When you have a cold or a sore throat, you may end up having swollen lymph nodes in your neck. These lymph nodes could also swell if you injure the area with a cut, bite or something else. In some cases, the lymph nodes swell because there is a tumor in the affected area or because there is an infection.
When your lymph nodes and body are healthy, the lymph nodes will be smaller than half an inch in size. You may even be unable to feel them when they are not swollen. When they do start to swell, they protrude a bit, and you may be able to feel them. If they are swollen, they can be up to double their normal size.
When your lymph nodes are swollen, you may also experience other symptoms. You may have mouth sores, a sore throat or a fever. You may notice a lump. When you press the lymph nodes, they may feel painful or tender. There may even be redness or warmth around the swollen node.
When you have swollen lymph nodes that are soft and tender to the touch, it generally indicates that there is some type of infection or inflammation. You may be able to nudge them easily with your hand. If the lymph node feels hard, is difficult to move and is not painful, it could be a sign of something more serious. If so, you should go to your doctor to be evaluated.
What If Several Lymph Nodes Are Swollen?
At times, you may notice that there are more lymph nodes swollen than just one. Known medically as generalize lymphadenopathy, this condition is often caused by a viral illness like measles, chickenpox, rubella or mumps. It may also be caused by mononucleosis, which causes symptoms like a fever, sore throat and fatigue.
Multiple swollen lymph nodes could be a side effect of the MMR vaccination or an anti-seizure medication like Dilantin. It could be caused by a bacterial illness like strep throat or Lyme disease. Cancers like leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma could also cause this. Sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis could be the cause. If you have a virus like HIV attacking your immune system, you could develop multiple swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Obviously, the best treatment option is to treat whatever is causing the swelling. If you have an infection, antibiotics may help to cure the infection. Viral infections will generally go away on their own. If it is caused by cancer, then your doctor may want to do a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis before deciding on the next course of treatment.
There are also some home remedies that can help. If the swollen lymph nodes are causing you pain, then an over-the-counter pain reliever like aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help limit the pain and swelling. These can also help reduce your fever. Do not ever give aspirin to a child without your doctor’s approval because it could cause Reye’s syndrome.
If swelling is the problem, prepare a warm compress. Soak a washcloth in fairly warm water and wring out the extra water. Then, apply it to the lymph nodes for a few minutes at a time. In addition, try to get plenty of rest. Your immune system is fighting some type of disease, so you need to get rest and take care of your body. Once your body has recovered from the illness, your swollen lymph nodes should go away.
When Will My Lymph Nodes Stop Being Swollen?
The duration of swelling all depends on what is causing it. Normally, the swelling will start to go down after your infection has healed. Even when you feel better, it can still take a few days or weeks for the swelling to stop. In children, the lymph nodes will often stay swollen for several weeks after the illness has actually been treated.
When Should You Go to the Doctor?
There are some indications that you may need to go to the doctor to get treated. If you have some type of infection or illness, you should get medical help to cure the infection. You should also go to your doctor if the swelling keeps returning or does not go away. Go to your doctor if the lymph nodes feel hard and rubbery. You should also get medical help if the lymph nodes hand around for multiple weeks, keep growing or are swollen without an apparent cause. If your swelling is accompanied by other symptoms like unexplained weight loss, night sweats, sore throat or a fever, go to your doctor.