Swollen lymph nodes may be subtle and a result of a small imbalance in your body, or they may be an indication of infection or disease. To be able to understand what is causing your swollen lymph nodes, you will first need to understand what they are.
We all have groups of nodes throughout our body, including our neck, armpits and groin area.
Think of your lymph nodes as filters that process lymph, a clear fluid that carries white blood cells through your lymphatic system. When everything is working normally the lymph flows through the nodes without disturbance. However, when they recognize an infection, disease or foreign cell, lymph nodes respond by swelling. These nodes, which when healthy are typically undetectable, will appear as enlarged bumps under the skin. Swollen lymph nodes can be the size of a mosquito bite or as large as a cherry.
There are two terms used to identify swollen lymph nodes – “lymphadenopathy” or “lymphadenitis.” Lymphadenopathy simply indicates an abnormality of the node in regards to size or consistency, where lymphadenitis specifically identifies the cause of lymphadenopathy to be an infection or other inflammatory issue.
Nodes can become swollen over a few days, referred to as “acute” lymphadenopathy or lymphadenitis, or they can become swollen over a period of time, in which case, they’re referred to as “chronic” lymphadenopathy or lymphadenitis.
Swollen nodes in the neck are common and often a byproduct of an infection like the common cold and disappear on their own, but they may also indicate a more severe condition. There are three common causes of swollen nodes: infection, a skin condition or cancer.
Symptoms of neck nodes include large lumps that you can see or feel on the front, sides or back of your neck. These nodes are sometimes painful, especially when touched. You may also notice the skin around the nodes is slightly red or warm to the touch.
Most swollen lymph nodes do not need to be professionally treated and should subside as your infection (e.g., the common cold or flu) does. But, if you’re not experiencing typical cold or flu symptoms, and swollen nodes persist, you may consider contacting your healthcare provider. Because many different conditions can cause swollen lymph nodes, your healthcare provider may want to examine you to find the cause and rule out certain infections or possible tumors. Your symptoms will determine the type of test your provider may request. Typical tests include a blood test, lab test, imaging test, biopsy and/or skin test.
The remedy for swollen nodes due to infection will often be antibiotics. Most people can take these by mouth at home, but if you have a severe infection, you may need to receive them through an IV bag administered at a hospital.
If you have a pus-filled node that doesn’t get better with antibiotics, your provider might need to drain the pus.
Swollen lymph nodes can be an indicator of any number of ailments, so it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional before jumping to any sort of self-diagnoses.
If you think you may have swollen lymph nodes, schedule an appointment with a Portneuf Primary Care provider today at mychart.portneuf.org.