Swollen lymph nodes are normally a sign of infection and tend to lessen when you recover. There are various adult lymph nodes in many parts of the body that may become swollen due to various reasons. In a child, a node is considered swollen or enlarged if it is more than 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) in diameter.
The most common swollen lymph nodes are visible on the side of the neck or under the jaw. They mostly represent an infection around that area like a throat infection, tooth infection or abscess, upper respiratory infection, or even a viral illness. Most causes of swollen lymph nodes are benign, though sometimes the swelling of these lymph nodes may suggest cancer in the head and neck area.
There are many causes of swollen lymph nodes, sometimes called “swollen glands” (lymphadenitis or lymphadenopathy). Most people can see swollen lymph nodes on the neck, under the jaw, behind the ear, above the collar bone, under the arms, and around the groin. Generally, lymph nodes become swollen when they are active due to infection, inflammation, or cancer. The most common cause of swollen lymph nodes are infections like those of bacterial, viral, parasites, and fungal. Some common infections include ear infection, measles, strep throat, and skin or wound infection like cellulitis or erysipelas.
Lymph nodes found in your neck are called cervical lymph nodes. The enlarged lymph nodes are mainly the superficial types or those that are located directly under the skin. If you are a young adult with persistent swollen glands in your neck, you might have glandular fever that usually causes a sore throat and high temperature as well. Rubella causes a distinctive red or pink rash and swollen glands behind your ears, around the neck, and at the back of your head. Even teething babies or those who have ear infections may have enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. Other diseases like cat-scratch fever, toxoplasmosis, and tuberculosis, are also indicated by enlarged neck lymph nodes.
When the lymph nodes first swell, they might be tender and painful, and they may become larger than their normal pea-size. Other signs and symptoms, depending on the cause of the swollen lymph nodes are sore throat, runny nose, fever, and other indications of an upper respiratory infection. General swelling of the lymph nodes might occur all through the body, which indicates an infection like mononucleosis or HIV, or an immune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Other symptoms might include swollen limbs that possibly indicate lymph system blockage caused by a swelling in the lymph node too far under the skin to feel. Even night sweats and hardened, fixed, rapidly growing nodes that indicate a possible tumor can be a symptom of swollen lymph nodes.
Your doctor might ask for some tests to diagnose the cause of the swollen lymph nodes. He might suggest a physical examination and want to check the lymph nodes near the surface of the skin for the warmth, size, tenderness, and texture. Specific tests might be done depending on the cause, or you might be suggested to go in for a chest X-ray or CT (Computerized Tomography) scan of the affected area to determine the infection or find tumors. If nothing can be diagnosed, a lymph node biopsy might be the answer where a sample or the entire lymph node is removed for microscopic examination.
Mostly antibiotics are suggested as a treatment for swollen lymph nodes, though over-the-counter pain relievers also help. Treatment would differ if the swollen lymph nodes occur due to immune disorder or cancer. However, to get relief for tender and painful swollen lymph nodes you can apply a warm, wet compress like a washcloth soaked in hot water and wrung out to the affected area.
Holistic and natural treatments, as well as many homeopathic and herbal remedies are gentle and don’t cause side effects while treating enlarged lymph nodes. Mistletoe can repair damaged cells and reduce inflammation, while herbs like wild indigo,lLicorice, and Echinacea should be used if your condition is acute and requires immediate help to boost your immune system. However, it is best to consult your doctor before trying out any of these alternative methods of treatment.