Have you ever experienced swollen glands in your neck? Swollen glands, also known as lymph nodes, are part of your body’s immune system and can become enlarged when your body is fighting off an infection or illness. It’s a common condition that can be caused by various factors, from minor infections to serious illnesses.
While swollen glands in the neck can be uncomfortable and even painful, they’re usually not a cause for alarm. However, in some cases, they may be a sign of a more serious condition that requires medical attention. In this article, we’ll explore the causes of swollen glands in the neck, when to seek medical help, and how to treat this common condition.
What are Lymph Nodes?
Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures located throughout the body that are part of the lymphatic system. The primary function of lymph nodes is to filter lymph fluid, a fluid produced by the body to transport foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses, away from the body’s tissues and organs.
The lymph nodes contain specialized cells that can detect and recognize these foreign substances and trap them in the nodes, thus preventing them from spreading throughout the body.
Lymph nodes can be found in the neck, armpits, and groin, among other places. Each group of lymph nodes is connected by lymphatic vessels, which help to transport the lymph fluid.
When a person has an infection, the lymph nodes in that area can become swollen and tender as they fight off the foreign substance.
What does a swollen neck gland feel like?
Swollen neck glands can feel like a lump, or several lumps, in the neck area. Depending on the size of the swollen glands and the underlying cause, the lump(s) can be tender to the touch, causing discomfort and pain. Sometimes, the lump(s) may move around as the individual moves their head or neck.
In addition to feeling a lump, a person with swollen neck glands may experience other symptoms, such as a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and difficulty swallowing.
Swollen glands in the neck may also cause the individual to have a fever, chills, and night sweats. In some cases, individuals may also experience fatigue, body aches, and a general feeling of being unwell.
When swollen glands in the neck are caused by an infection, they are usually tender to the touch and may be associated with other symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, or swollen tonsils.
If the cause is allergies, the glands may not be tender and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as sneezing or itchy skin.
12 Common Causes of Swollen Glands in Neck
Knowing what causes swollen glands can help identify whether you need medical attention. The following are some causes of enlarged lymph nodes in the neck:
To effectively address swollen glands in the neck, it’s essential to understand the underlying causes. Let’s dive into the 12 common reasons behind this condition:
Infections are a leading cause of swollen glands. Viral or bacterial infections in the throat, mouth, or head can cause your lymph nodes to swell as they work hard to fend off the invaders. Common infections include the flu, colds, and tonsillitis.
Treatment: In most cases, treating the underlying infection with antibiotics (for bacterial infections) or supportive care (for viral infections) will lead to the resolution of swollen glands.
2. Common Cold
The common cold can lead to swollen neck glands, as your body’s immune response to the virus activates these lymph nodes. The cold virus often travels through the respiratory system, leading to throat and neck discomfort.
Treatment: Rest, hydration, and over-the-counter cold remedies can alleviate cold symptoms, leading to a reduction in swollen glands.
3. Strep Throat
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can result in painful and swollen neck glands, often accompanied by a sore throat and fever. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is crucial to avoid complications.
Treatment: Antibiotics are prescribed to clear the streptococcal infection, which, in turn, reduces neck gland swelling.
4. Ear Infections
Infections in the ear can cause lymph nodes in the neck to swell, as they’re interconnected with the ear canal. Earaches, fluid drainage, and fever are common symptoms.
Treatment: Treatment for ear infections typically involves antibiotics to clear the infection, relieving associated neck gland swelling.
5. Dental Issues
Oral health problems, such as gum infections or abscessed teeth, can trigger swollen neck glands. Poor oral hygiene can contribute to these issues, emphasizing the importance of regular dental check-ups.
Treatment: Dental treatment, including root canals or tooth extractions, along with antibiotics, can resolve dental-related infections and reduce swollen neck glands.
Mononucleosis, often known as the “kissing disease,” can lead to persistent swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, along with extreme fatigue and sore throat. This condition is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
Treatment: Mononucleosis is a viral infection, and treatment primarily involves rest, hydration, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Swollen glands tend to resolve as the virus is cleared from the body.
7. Skin Infections
Skin infections, like cellulitis or boils on the face or neck, can cause local lymph node enlargement.
Treatment: Antibiotics, either oral or topical, are commonly used to treat skin infections. Once the infection is under control, swollen neck glands should subside.
Certain vaccinations can lead to temporary swelling of neck glands as the body reacts to the vaccine. This is a normal response and usually subsides within a few days.
Treatment: No specific treatment is needed for vaccine-related swollen glands. The swelling typically goes away on its own as the immune response subsides.
In some cases, neck gland swelling may be due to cancer, such as lymphoma or leukemia. While rare, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional if you have persistent swelling, unexplained weight loss, or night sweats.
Treatment: Treatment for cancer-related swollen glands depends on the type and stage of cancer. It may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgical removal of affected lymph nodes.
10. Immune Disorders
Autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can cause lymph nodes to become enlarged. These conditions result from the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissues.
Treatment: Managing autoimmune disorders typically involves immunosuppressive medications and lifestyle changes. Treating the underlying autoimmune condition can reduce lymph node swelling.
Some medications, particularly those used in treating seizures or hypertension, can lead to lymph node swelling as a side effect. If you notice unusual symptoms while taking medication, consult your healthcare provider.
Treatment: If lymph node swelling is due to medication, your healthcare provider may adjust your treatment plan or switch you to an alternative medication.
12. Other Medical Conditions
Various medical conditions, including HIV, can result in swollen neck glands as the immune system becomes compromised.
Treatment: Treating underlying medical conditions often involves a combination of antiretroviral therapy (for HIV), medications, and lifestyle modifications to manage symptoms and reduce lymph node swelling.
Swollen Glands in the neck of children
Swollen glands in the neck of a child can be a worrying sign of an underlying illness. Common causes can include bacterial and viral infections such as tonsillitis, ear infections, and colds.
In some cases, the swelling can be due to an infection elsewhere in the body, such as a urinary tract infection. It is important to seek medical advice if your child has swollen glands in their neck, as they may need antibiotics or other treatments.
Swelling can last for a few days or up to three weeks and should gradually decrease. If the swelling persists or becomes more swollen, it is important to seek medical attention.
Other signs that may accompany swollen glands in the neck include fever, sore throat, headache, and fatigue. Ensure your child is eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest.
Swollen glands in the neck on one side
Swollen glands in the neck on one side can be caused by various conditions, from viral illnesses such as the common cold or flu to bacterial infections such as strep throat.
In some cases, swollen glands could be a sign of a more serious or chronic condition such as lymphoma or HIV. It is important to see a doctor if the swelling persists for more than a week or if accompanied by fever, sore throat, or other symptoms.
Swollen glands in the neck with a rash
Swollen glands in the neck with a rash are common symptoms of an infection. It is usually caused by a virus or bacteria, such as strep throat or mononucleosis. The rash may also be a sign of an allergic reaction.
Treatment depends on the cause. Antibiotics may be prescribed if a bacterial infection is suspected. If the cause is a virus, medications may be used to reduce the symptoms, such as fever and aches. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may be used to reduce swelling and pain.
Swollen glands in the neck after covid vaccine
Swollen glands in the neck are a common side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine. The swelling is usually mild and self-limited, meaning it should improve on its own within a few days. This is because the vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system, causing it to produce antibodies and other chemicals in response.
Although it may be alarming, swollen glands after the COVID-19 vaccine are usually not a cause for concern. The swelling should go down on its own in a few days and should not cause any long-term damage.
It is important to drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest while the swelling is present. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also help relieve discomfort.
When to see a doctor?
If you experience swollen glands in your neck that last longer than two weeks or become increasingly swollen, tender, or painful, it is important to see a doctor.
Swollen glands can indicate an infection, such as a cold, strep throat, or mono. However, swollen glands can also result from an underlying medical condition, such as an autoimmune disorder, cancer, or an infection.
In addition to swollen glands, other symptoms to look out for include fever, sore throat, or difficulty swallowing. If you experience any of these symptoms, along with swollen glands, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
Your doctor will be able to determine the cause of your swollen glands and provide the appropriate treatment. Depending on the cause, this may include antibiotics, a change in diet, or further testing.