The lymphatic system is a network made of organs, vessels and numerous lymph nodes located all over your body. The majority of your lymph nodes are located on the head and neck. The lymphatic system plays a very important role in your body’s ability to fight viral and bacterial infections, but also other causes of illnesses. Common areas, where your lymph nodes get swollen are in your neck, under the chin, in your armpits and in your groin.
When these lymph nodes get swollen, this means that something is not quite right with your body. Usually lymph nodes get swollen due to viral or bacterial infections, a condition that is known as lymphadenitis. In rare cases, lymph nodes can get swollen due to different types of cancer.
How does the lymphatic system of your head and neck looks like?
The lymphatic system of the head and neck consists of tonsils, several groups of lymph nodes located in different places on the head and neck, many lymphatic vessels and red bone marrow. All the above mentioned structures work together in order to filter, clean and drain the interstitial fluid. In this way they are able to destroy and get rid of any possible harmful pathogen that may infect this region of the body.
The head consists of eight groups of lymph nodes. They are named based on their location. The groups of lymph nodes that are located in the head include: anterior auricular, posterior auricular, parotid, facial, deep facial, lingual, retropharyngeal and occipital lymph nodes. Each group of lymph nodes varies in size and number.
The neck consists of five groups of lymph nodes. These groups also vary in size and number. The groups of lymph nodes located in the neck are: superficial cervical, anterior cervical, deep cervical, submental and submaxillary nodes.
The lymph nodes located on the surface are the one that are noticed first and usually they are also easily palpated on the neck, just inferior to the jaw.
There are also five tonsils that are located around the nasal and oral cavity. These tonsils are: two palatine tonsils, two lingual tonsils and one pharyngeal tonsil. Tonsils are a dens mass of lymphatic tissue which is covered with mucous membrane. The key role of the tonsils is to detect and destroy any possible pathogen that has entered the human body through air or food. They also get very easily inflamed and swollen in response to an infection.
Occipital lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system of your head, together with other seven groups of lymph nodes that are located in this region. They are located near the occipital bone of the skull, just outside of the skull, on the back of your head. As any other lymph node in the human body, their role is to filter, clean and drain the interstitial fluid from any pathogen that might have arrived into this part of the body. When an infection is present, these lymph nodes get swollen due to increased number of lymphocytes that are present inside of the node.
What can cause your occipital lymph nodes to get swollen?
The most common cause that leads to swelling of the occipital lymph nodes and all the other lymph nodes throughout the human body are infections like: ear infection, cold and flu, mononucleosis, tonsillitis, peritonsillar abscess, tuberculosis, abscessed or impacted tooth, etc.
Lymph nodes also get swollen due to certain autoimmune disorders, like: HIV/AIDS and rheumatoid arthritis.
Lymph nodes also get swollen due to certain types of cancer, like:
Cancers that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:
• Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
• Hodgkin disease
• Other types of cancer that spread to the lymph nodules.
Certain medications like seizure medicine or typhoid immunization can also cause swollen lymph nodes.
Keep in mind that in cases of infection, the lymph nodes get swollen suddenly and they are also painful. However, in cases of cancer, the lymph nodes tend to get swollen slowly and usually they are painless.
Usually when these lymph nodes get swollen it means that they are doing their job as they should. The soreness will go away in a couple of days, while they can return to its normal size after a few weeks. But, keep in mind to seek medical help in cases when:
• The lymph nodes do not get smaller after a few weeks
• The lymph nodes continue to grow
• The lymph nodes are red and tender
• The lymph nodes are hard, irregular or even fixed to the surrounded area
• The swelling of the lymph nodes is accompanied by unexplained weight loss over a short period of time, night sweats and fever.
Your health care provider will ask a detailed medical history, probably will ask you if the lymph nodes appeared suddenly and if they are painful, or rather they tended to grow over time and are painless. Various questions regarding your medical history will help your doctor determine the real cause of the problem. He/She will also do complete physical examinations and order various tests like blood tests, X-rays, CT-scan or even lymph node biopsy.
The treatment will depend from its cause.