Possible Causes for Swollen Lymph Nodes in the Neck
If a swollen lymph node in the neck is connected to an infection, you should treat the infection appropriately; failure to do so can result in a buildup of pus around the infection that subsequently must be drained. If skin around the lymph nodes becomes and stays red, that's also a reason to contact a doctor for a full diagnosis. Even after you fight off an infection, such as a cold, it can still take another couple of weeks for swollen lymph nodes to return to their normal, unnoticeable size.
Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, often referred to as swollen glands, can be an indication of infection, inflammation or cancer. They can become swollen in reaction to bacterial infections such as strep throat, tonsillitis, or infections of the mouth, skin or ears. They can also react to viral infections such as mononucleosis, the common cold or HIV. Various forms of cancer also typically cause the lymph nodes to swell, particularly lymphoma or leukemia, cancers that affect the blood and lymph system directly.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Sometimes lymph nodes in the neck become swollen with no other co-occurring symptoms; in this case, they are often discovered only during a doctor's examination. If you can feel your lymph glands at all, even if you have no other symptoms, you should consider them to be swollen. Symptoms that can occur with swollen lymph nodes are often more significant than the swollen glands themselves. These can include fever, night sweats, tenderness to the touch, redness around the nodes and the general symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck are typically diagnosed by touch.
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck are not typically treated on their own. Instead, a physician looks for the cause of the swelling and treats that instead. For instance, if a lymph node is swollen due to tonsillitis, treating the tonsillitis causes the lymph node swelling to subside. In general, taking over-the-counter pain relievers and resting to allow your body to fight the underlying infection or inflammation is the best combined approach to treating swollen lymph nodes. If the swelling lasts more than two weeks, if the lymph nodes are hard to the touch, or if the swelling is accompanied by weight loss, fatigue, fever or night sweats, contact a doctor for a full diagnosis.
The body's lymphatic system produces antibodies and macrophages to fight bacteria and viruses threatening to infect the body and help remove them from the body. The lymph nodes on either side of your neck are a vital part of this system. Normally, you should not be able to feel your lymph nodes, but they can become swollen when fighting infection or inflammation.