Swollen lymph nodes or swollen glands are oftentimes accompanied by a sore throat, headache, and/or fatigue. Typically, if your glands are swollen, it is an indication that your body is fighting an infection or some other type of illness.
Purpose of Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes are a small part of a large lymphatic system that contribute to helping your body battle infections and other diseases. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped masses of tissue that contain lymphocytes or immune cells. When lymphatic fluid passes through the lymph nodes, these immune cells trap viruses, bacteria, and other possibly harmful substances and destroy them. This helps keep these pathogens from spreading any further.
You may already be aware of the lymph nodes found in your neck. However, you actually have hundreds of lymph nodes located throughout your entire body. Your tonsils are also classified as lymph tissues. Sometimes, they can become swollen and inflamed to fight illnesses. This condition, called tonsillitis, is most common in children, but adults can also contract it. Other areas of the body where you might feel swollen lymph nodes include:
- Behind your ears
- Under your jaw
- The lower part of the back of your head
- Your armpits
- Your groin area
Signs and Symptoms
Under normal circumstances, you should not be able to feel your glands. Normally, they are approximately one half inch in diameter. However, when you or your child fights off an illness, these glands may swell to double or triple their regular size. At this point, they can be felt very easily. Additional signs and symptoms of swollen glands include:
- Pain or tenderness when pressure is applied
- Sore throat, fever, and or sores in the mouth
- Warm, red, and swollen skin over the gland
- Glands that feel “lumpy”
Causes and Concerns
Soft, tender, and moveable swollen glands are typically signs of inflammation or infection. Lymph nodes that are painless, feel hard to the touch, and resist movement need further examination by an ear, nose, and throat specialist, as they could be warning signs of more serious conditions. The most common causes of swollen glands include:
- Bacterial infections including strep throat
- Infected teeth or mouth sores
- Viral infections including mononucleosis, also known as "mono"
- Skin infections
- Ear infections
- Sexually transmitted diseases, also known as STDs
- Cancers like Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, and breast cancer
- Immunodeficiency conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, and HIV infections
- Possible side effects from vaccines or other types of medications
Solutions and Options
After the illness has been treated and you feel better overall, your lymph nodes should shrink back to normal. Treatment of your swollen glands tends to be cause-dependent. The following home remedies may be helpful in reducing the pain and discomfort you are experiencing:
- Non-prescription pain relievers: Tylenol (acetaminophen), and anti-inflammatory medications like Advil (ibuprofen), reduce the swelling and inflammation. However, do not ever administer aspirin to a child, as there is a significant risk for Reye's syndrome.
- Warm, wet compresses: Apply to the affected areas for soothing effect.
- Rest: Make sure to get lots of rest, as this helps your body recover from illness.
When to see a Doctor
There are some symptoms and indications that your swollen glands require treatment from a healthcare professional. Additional treatment may be required if swollen glands are accompanied by:
- A high fever (more than 104 degrees F)
- Breathing difficulties
- Problems swallowing
- Night sweats
- Unexplained loss of weight
- Reddened skin over top of the swollen lymph nodes
- Large swollen nodes that are very tender, hard to the touch, and do not reduce in size
The majority of cases of swollen glands are no cause for great concern. They usually go away with basic treatment at home. However, the more serious symptoms mentioned above should never be ignored. If you are experiencing persistent or problematic swollen glands, contact our office for an appointment. One of our experienced head and neck specialists can offer you a solution and treatment.
Call us at 817-595-3700 to schedule an appointment.