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Where are my neck lymph nodes: Swollen lymph nodes Information | Mount Sinai

Swollen lymph nodes Information | Mount Sinai

Swollen glands; Glands – swollen; Lymph nodes – swollen; Lymphadenopathy

Lymph nodes are present throughout your body. They are an important part of your immune system. Lymph nodes help your body recognize and fight germs, infections, and other foreign substances.

The term “swollen glands” refers to enlargement of one or more lymph nodes. The medical name for swollen lymph nodes is lymphadenopathy.

In a child, a node is considered enlarged if it is more than 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) wide.

The lymphatic system has two main functions. Its network of vessels, valves, ducts, nodes, and organs helps balance the body’s fluid by draining excess fluid, known as lymph, from the body’s tissue and returning it to the blood after filtering it. Some types of blood cells are also made in the lymph nodes.
The lymphatic system also plays an important role in the body’s immune system.
Infection, even a trivial infection is, the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes.
Let’s look at a cut section of a lymph node to see what happens.
Afferent means towards. Afferent lymph vessels bring unfiltered fluids from the body into the lymph node where they are filtered.
Efferent vessels, meaning away from, carry the clean fluid away and back to the bloodstream where it helps form plasma.
When the body is invaded by foreign organisms, the swelling sometimes felt in the neck, armpits, groin, or tonsils comes from the microorganisms trapped inside the lymph nodes.
Eventually, these organisms are destroyed and eliminated by cells that line the node walls. Then the swelling and pain subside.

The lymphatic system filters fluid from around cells. It is an important part of the immune system. When people refer to swollen glands in the neck, they are usually referring to swollen lymph nodes. Common areas where lymph nodes can be easily felt, especially if they are enlarged, are the groin, armpits (axilla), above the clavicle (supraclavicular), in the neck (cervical), and the back of the head just above hairline (occipital).

Swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, fatigue and headache are some of the symptoms of mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is generally self-limiting and most patients can recover in 4 to 6 weeks without medicines.

The lymphatic system is a complex system of fluid drainage and transport, and immune response and disease resistance. Fluid that is forced out of the bloodstream during normal circulation is filtered through lymph nodes to remove bacteria, abnormal cells and other matter. This fluid is then transported back into the bloodstream via the lymph vessels. Lymph only moves in one direction, toward the heart.

Lymph nodes produce immune cells to help fight infection. They also filter the lymph fluid and remove foreign material, such as bacteria and cancer cells. They can become swollen from inflammatory conditions, an abscess, cancer, and most commonly from infection. Common areas where lymph nodes can be felt include the groin, armpit, behind the ears, back of the head, sides of the neck and under the jaw and chin.

Lymph nodes play an important part in the body’s defense against infection. Swelling might occur even if the infection is trivial or not apparent. Swelling of lymph nodes generally results from localized or systemic infection, abscess formation, or malignancy.


Common areas where the lymph nodes can be felt (with the fingers) include:

  • Groin
  • Armpit
  • Neck (there is a chain of lymph nodes on either side of the front of the neck, both sides of the neck, and down each side of the back of the neck)
  • Under the jaw and chin
  • Behind the ears
  • On the back of the head


Infections are the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. Infections that can cause them include:

  • Abscessed or impacted tooth
  • Ear infection
  • Colds, flu, and other infections
  • Swelling (inflammation) of gums (gingivitis)
  • Mononucleosis
  • Mouth sores
  • Sexually transmitted illness (STI)
  • Tonsillitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Skin infections

Immune or autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes are:

  • HIV
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Cancers that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Leukemia
  • Hodgkin disease
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Many other cancers may also cause this problem.

Certain medicines can cause swollen lymph nodes, including:

  • Seizure medicines, such as phenytoin
  • Typhoid immunization

Which lymph nodes are swollen depends on the cause and the body parts involved. Swollen lymph nodes that appear suddenly and are painful are usually due to injury or infection. Slow, painless swelling may be due to cancer or a tumor.

Home Care

Painful lymph nodes are generally a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The soreness usually goes away in a couple of days without treatment. The lymph node may not return to its normal size for several weeks.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if:

  • Your lymph nodes do not get smaller after several weeks or they continue to get larger.
  • They are red and tender.
  • They feel hard, irregular, or fixed in place.
  • You have fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss.
  • Any node in a child is larger than 1 centimeter (a little less than half inch) in diameter.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history and symptoms. Examples of questions that may be asked include:

  • When the swelling began
  • If the swelling came on suddenly
  • Whether any nodes are painful when pressed

The following tests may be done:

  • Blood tests, including liver function tests, kidney function tests, and CBC with differential
  • Lymph node biopsy
  • Chest x-ray
  • Liver-spleen scan

Treatment depends on the cause of the swollen nodes.

Tower RL, Camitta BM. Lymphadenopathy. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 517.

Winter JN. Approach to the patient with lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 159.

Last reviewed on: 1/29/2022

Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

Swollen lymph nodes – Symptoms & causes


Swollen lymph nodes usually occur as a result of infection from bacteria or viruses. Rarely, swollen lymph nodes are caused by cancer.

Your lymph nodes, also called lymph glands, play a vital role in your body’s ability to fight off infections. They function as filters, trapping viruses, bacteria and other causes of illnesses before they can infect other parts of your body. Common areas where you might notice swollen lymph nodes include your neck, under your chin, in your armpits and in your groin.

Lymph node locations

Your lymph nodes play a vital role in your body’s ability to fight off infections. Common areas where you might notice swollen lymph nodes include your neck, under your chin, in your armpits and in your groin.

Swollen lymph nodes

One of the most common places to find swollen lymph nodes is in the neck. The inset shows three swollen lymph nodes below the lower jaw.

In some cases, the passage of time and warm compresses may be all you need to treat swollen lymph nodes. If an infection causes swollen lymph nodes, treatment depends on the cause.

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Your lymphatic system is a network of organs, vessels and lymph nodes situated throughout your body. Many lymph nodes are located in your head and neck region. Lymph nodes that frequently swell are in this area, as well as in your armpits and groin area.

Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that something is wrong somewhere in your body. When your lymph nodes first swell, you might notice:

  • Tenderness and pain in the lymph nodes
  • Swelling that may be the size of a pea or kidney bean, or even larger in the lymph nodes

Depending on the cause of your swollen lymph nodes, other signs and symptoms you might have include:

  • Runny nose, sore throat, fever and other indications of an upper respiratory infection
  • General swelling of lymph nodes throughout your body. When this occurs, it may indicate an infection, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or mononucleosis, or an immune system disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hard, fixed, rapidly growing nodes, indicating a possible cancer or lymphoma
  • Fever
  • Night sweats

When to see a doctor

Some swollen lymph nodes return to normal when the underlying condition, such as a minor infection, gets better. See your doctor if you’re concerned or if your swollen lymph nodes:

  • Have appeared for no apparent reason
  • Continue to enlarge or have been present for two to four weeks
  • Feel hard or rubbery, or don’t move when you push on them
  • Are accompanied by persistent fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss

Seek immediate medical care if you’re having difficulty swallowing or breathing.


Lymph nodes are small, round or bean-shaped clusters of cells. Inside lymph nodes are a combination of different types of immune system cells. These specialized cells filter your lymphatic fluid as it travels through your body and protect you by destroying invaders.

Lymph nodes are located in groups, and each group drains a specific area of your body. You may be more likely to notice swelling in certain areas, such as in the lymph nodes in your neck, under your chin, in your armpits and in your groin. The site of the swollen lymph nodes may help identify the underlying cause.

The most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is an infection, particularly a viral infection, such as the common cold. Other possible causes of swollen lymph nodes include:

Common infections

  • Strep throat
  • Measles
  • Ear infections
  • Infected (abscessed) tooth
  • Mononucleosis
  • Skin or wound infections, such as cellulitis
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) — the virus that causes AIDS

Uncommon infections

  • Tuberculosis
  • Certain sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis
  • Toxoplasmosis — a parasitic infection resulting from contact with the feces of an infected cat or eating undercooked meat
  • Cat scratch fever — a bacterial infection from a cat scratch or bite

Immune system disorders

  • Lupus — a chronic inflammatory disease that targets your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — a chronic inflammatory disease targeting the tissue that lines your joints (synovium)


  • Lymphoma — cancer that originates in your lymphatic system
  • Leukemia — cancer of your body’s blood-forming tissue, including your bone marrow and lymphatic system
  • Other cancers that have spread (metastasized) to lymph nodes

Other possible but rare causes include certain medications, such as the anti-seizure medication phenytoin (Dilantin) and preventive medications for malaria.


If infection is the cause of your swollen lymph nodes and isn’t treated, an abscess may form. Abscesses are localized collections of pus caused by infections. Pus contains fluid, white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria or other invaders. An abscess may require drainage and antibiotic treatment.

Why the lymph nodes in the neck become inflamed and what to do about it



June 25, 2022

Most likely, everything is fine with you. But just in case, check for dangerous symptoms.

You can listen to the short version of the article. If it’s more convenient for you, turn on the podcast.

What are lymph nodes

Lymph nodes, or lymph glands, are small formations in the neck, under the arms, in the groin and other areas located near the vital organs. The main function of the lymph nodes is to filter the lymph and help the body fight infections.

Everyone knows what lymph is in general terms. Its mixture with intercellular fluid is also called ichor. This is the same colorless liquid that appears on the wound if the skin is slightly damaged. But there is much more lymph in the body than it might seem. Moving through special vessels, it washes the cells of all organs and tissues, is considered a special type of connective tissue and one of the most important elements of immunity.

It is the lymph that flushes out dead cells, decay products, viruses, bacteria from the body.

Lymphocytes are the main cells of the immune system, capable of recognizing pathogens. Flowing through the lymph nodes, the lymph is filtered: viruses and bacteria linger in them and are destroyed.

When a person is healthy, the glands purify the lymph without undue stress. But if the viral or microbial attack is too strong, they have a hard time. The lymph nodes overflow with “garbage” that they do not have time to digest, become inflamed and become like peas rolling under the skin.

In general, swollen lymph nodes are a sign that an inflammatory process is developing somewhere nearby.

Why the lymph nodes in the neck become inflamed

Here is a list of the most likely causes:

  • Respiratory tract diseases – the same ARVI.
  • Problems in the mouth or nasopharynx. For example, caries, pulpitis, inflammation in the sinuses, tonsillitis, labial herpes.
  • General infections – chickenpox, measles, cytomegalovirus, mononucleosis.
  • Skin infections – for example, inflammation resulting from an unsuccessful attempt to pop a pimple.
  • Otitis.

However, there are more unpleasant causes of inflammation of the lymph nodes.

When to see a doctor with enlarged lymph nodes

Most often, enlarged lymph nodes are not an independent disease, but only a symptom. Therefore, they are usually accompanied by other signs of infection:

  • general malaise and weakness;
  • temperature increase;
  • headache;
  • sore throat, ears or mouth;
  • runny nose, nasal congestion.

If you observe this, go to a therapist. Your doctor will help you quickly treat a cold, earache, or send you to the dentist if he thinks tooth decay may be the cause. As soon as you cope with the underlying disease, the lymph nodes will also deflate and cease to be a concern.

It is much worse if the lymph nodes in the neck are inflamed, but you have no signs of SARS or other infections. In this case, we can talk about systemic inflammation – autoimmune diseases, oncological processes, HIV infection.

When to see a doctor immediately

Here is a list of symptoms, in case of any of which you should go to a therapist as soon as possible:

  • The skin over the enlarged lymph node turned red and became hot – this indicates the beginning of a purulent process.
  • Lymph nodes in the neck have increased for no apparent reason.
  • Lymph glands became inflamed not only on the neck, but also in other places. For example, under the armpits, in the groin, on the elbows, above the collarbones.
  • Knots don’t move when you try to push them down.
  • Swollen lymph nodes accompanied by increased sweating, persistent fever (no other symptoms of infectious diseases), unexplained weight loss.
  • You have difficulty swallowing or breathing.
  • Lymph nodes do not return to normal size for two weeks or more.

Your doctor may send you to a surgeon to open an abscess. Perhaps they will offer to take a blood test, take an X-ray, ultrasound, CT or MRI, or take a piece of an enlarged lymph node for microscopic examination (this procedure is called a biopsy). Depending on the results of the tests, you will be given the appropriate treatment.

How to relieve the condition right now

There are several ways.

Make a warm compress

Soak a washcloth in warm water, wring it out well and apply it to your neck.

Attention: this method is not suitable if you observe symptoms of a purulent process – redness of the skin over the lymph node, an increase in its temperature. With these symptoms, you need to get to the doctor as soon as possible.

Take a pain reliever

Paracetamol is best. But aspirin and ibuprofen in some cases can do harm.

So, children, adolescents, and people who have problems with blood clotting should be careful with aspirin. In addition, both drugs are contraindicated in chickenpox. Therefore, it is better to consult with a therapist.

Get more rest

If possible, take sick leave or a couple of days off. Rest is necessary for the body to quickly cope with the disease.

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What to do if the lymph nodes in the neck are inflamed

The enlargement of the lymph nodes in the neck, as a rule, occurs as a result of contact with bacteria and viruses. If the enlargement is caused by an infection, it is called lymphadenitis. Rarely, cancer can be the cause.

The lymphatic system plays a vital role in keeping our body alive and is a major component of our immunity. Lymph nodes can be felt in the neck, chin, armpits and groin. In some cases, no action is required for treatment and a warm compress is enough. Treatment depends on the cause.


The lymphatic system includes a network of organs and lymph nodes located throughout the body. Most of them are in the head and neck area. Swollen lymph nodes indicate that something is wrong in the body. The first signs are sensitivity, soreness and an increase in lymph nodes to the size of a bean and even more.

Depending on the cause of the appearance, the symptoms of the disease may be as follows:

Runny nose, sore throat, fever and other signs of an upper respiratory tract infection.
Swollen lymph nodes throughout the body may indicate HIV, mononucleosis, or immune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Swollen limbs may indicate a blockage in the lymphatic system caused by tumors in the lymph nodes that are deep under the skin and cannot be felt.

When treatment of lymph nodes in the neck requires a visit to a doctor

Lymph nodes return to normal over time if the cause of the increase was an infection that has responded to treatment. But there are a number of factors in which you should consult a doctor:

  • Swelling without apparent cause
  • Duration 2-4 weeks
  • Knots are difficult to feel and do not move when pressed
  • Accompanied by persistent fevers, night sweats and weight loss
  • Accompanied by sore throat and difficulty in swallowing.

Why lymph nodes in the neck become inflamed – causes

A lymph node is a small, round or bean-shaped cluster of cells covered with a capsule of connective tissue. The cells are a combination of lymphocytes that produce protein particles that fight viruses and macrophages that break down harmful substances. Lymphocytes and macrophages filter the lymphatic fluid that flows throughout the body and protects us.

Lymph nodes are located in groups, each of which serves a specific area of ​​the body. An increase in a specific area may suggest a cause. The most common is an infection, especially a viral one, such as a cold. But there are other types of lymphadenitis of the cervical lymph nodes , such as parasitic or bacterial, which can cause enlargement of the lymph nodes.

Common infections:

  • Measles
  • Ear infections
  • Infection of the tooth – abscess
  • Mononucleosis
  • Skin infections
  • HIV

Atypical infections:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Sexually transmitted (syphilis and others)
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cat scratch bacterial infection

Autoimmune diseases:

  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Other cancers that have spread to lymph nodes


If the cause is an infection and not properly treated, complications may occur.

Abscess formation. Localization of the accumulation of pus caused by infection. Pus contains fluid, white blood cells, dead tissue, bacteria, and other harmful elements. If an abscess occurs, drainage or antibiotic treatment may be required. Significant damage can be done if vital organs are affected.

Bloodstream infection. Bacterial, can start anywhere in your body and progress to sepsis caused by significant blood poisoning. Sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Treatment includes hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.


To diagnose an illness, your doctor may need to:

  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Blood test
  • Chest x-ray and computed tomography
  • Lymph node biopsy (as a last resort).

Treatment of lymph nodes in the neck

If the cause is a virus, the lymph nodes in the neck will recover on their own after the infection itself is treated. But if this does not happen or there is another reason, the following treatment may be required:

  • Infection. The most common treatment for swollen lymph nodes is antibiotics. If the cause is HIV infection, treatment appropriate to the disease is required.
  • Autoimmune disease. With lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, proper treatment of the disease itself is necessary.
  • Cancer. Depending on the type and extent of development, surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy may be required.

Home treatment for lymph nodes in the neck

If your lymph nodes are swollen and painful, you can relieve symptoms in the following ways:

  • Exposure to heat. Apply a warm, damp compress, such as a sponge soaked in hot water.
  • Painkiller. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen can help relieve pain and bring down a fever. Do not give aspirin to children without the advice of a doctor.
  • Rest. A good rest is sometimes all that is needed to bring your condition back to normal.