It can be quite a shock for most people to discover swollen lymph nodes in the neck. It is quite common to find lymph nodes in the neck, around the head, the armpit area, and groin. Swollen lymph nodes can also create a lump behind the ear.
But—what are lymph nodes? They are a vital part of the immune and lymphatic systems that help your body fight infections and disease. They are small, bean-shaped glands that carry nutrients, fluids, and waste between the bloodstream and body tissues. In general, lymph nodes are not painful, and you likely will not even feel them.
The problem is when lymph nodes become swollen. This condition is also sometimes called swollen glands, lymphadenitis, or lymphadenopathy.
Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes
The other day I discovered a small bump on my neck. This bump turned out to be nothing serious—but sometimes it could be a sign of a greater problem. When lymph nodes swell in a particular location like the neck, it could indicate a minor infection like a common cold, or something more serious such as an injury, inflammation, or even cancer. The following are potential causes of swollen lymph nodes in the neck:
- Viruses: Including herpes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a common cold, adenovirus measles, chickenpox, and infectious mononucleosis (mono).
- Bacteria: Including staphylococcus, streptococcus, cat scratch disease, syphilis, chlamydia, tuberculosis, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Fungal diseases: Including histoplasmosis and coccidiomycosis.
- Parasites: Parasites linked with swollen lymph nodes include leishmaniasis and toxoplasmosis.
- Inflammatory causes: Inflammatory causes of swollen lymph nodes include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and sensitivity to certain medications.
- Cancer: Cancers linked with swollen lymph nodes include lung cancer, lymphomas and leukemia.
Other causes of swollen lymph nodes in the neck include transplant graft rejections, sarcoidosis, and genetic lipid storage diseases.
How to Recognize Swollen Lymph Nodes
How can you tell if you have a swollen lymph node in the neck? Swollen lymph nodes can appear as small as a pea or as large as a cherry. It is important to note that swollen lymph nodes are not always the sign of a disease. For instance, lymph nodes may be normal if they are less than a centimeter in size. However, when they swell, they will double or triple in size to the point where they can be felt. What are other symptoms related to swollen lymph nodes glands?
- Warm, swollen, and red skin on the lymph node
- Pain or tenderness when you touch them
- Infection symptoms like a sore throat, mouth sores, fatigue, coughing, runny nose, sweating, chills, and a fever
How to Treat Swollen Lymph Nodes
Swollen lymph nodes glands may get smaller without treatment. Other times treatment is required. If this is the case, treatment for lymph nodes in the neck will depend on the cause of the symptom. For example, if cancer is thought to be the cause of the swollen lymph node in the neck, a biopsy will help confirm the diagnosis. If the cause is viral or bacterial, antiviral medications or antibiotics may be prescribed to eliminate the swollen lymph nodes. From a holistic standpoint, there are also natural remedies that can be given for swollen lymph nodes:
- Homeopathic remedies: Homeopathy can help treat swollen nodes glands such as mercurious solubilis, kali muriaticum, natrum miriaticum, belladonna, iodine, silicea, calcarea fluorica, bromine, calcarea carbonica, and ferrum phosphoricum. Homeopathic tincture will also help drain the lymphatic system and trigger an immune response. Consult a homeopath for the best remedy based on your symptoms.
- Herbal remedies: Garlic is a well-known natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial herbal remedy that combats infection and supports the immune system. Garlic will reduce swelling and inflammation when the lymph node is swollen. Other herbal remedies that treat swollen glands and the lymphatic system include Echinacea, cleavers, licorice root, peppermint, turmeric, slippery elm, ginger, goldenseal, olive leaf, mullein, fenugreek, colloidal silver, and castor oil.
- Vitamins and minerals: Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can also help build the immune and lymphatic systems, including vitamin A with carotenes, vitamin C with bioflavonoids, zinc, selenium, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), vitamin B12, fish oil, and probiotics.
How Long Do Lymph Nodes Remain Swollen?
How long will lymph nodes remain swollen? Often swollen lymph nodes will disappear in a few days. But, lymph nodes are also thought to remain firm or swollen long after your initial infection disappears. This is often true for children where lymph node glands reduce in size, but will continue to remain noticeably firm for several weeks.
When to See a Doctor for Swollen Lymph Nodes
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When is the right time to see a doctor after feeling a swollen lymph node in the neck? Be sure to visit the doctor if your lymph nodes are linked with weight loss, night sweats, and fevers, and there isn’t any obvious sign of infection. You should also consider medical help if you were previously treated for an infection, and you have a swollen lymph node in the neck.
What if you had cancer, or were previously treated for a tumor? If you notice a new lymph node in the spot of the cancer, also make the trip to the doctor.
It is a good idea to visit your doctor if your swollen lymph nodes are accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Your swollen lymph nodes glands appear for no clear reason
- They feel rubbery or hard, and they are solid when touched
- They are present or continue to enlarge for two to four weeks
- You also have a sore throat, and difficulty breathing or swallowing
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Swollen Lymph Nodes
There are also certain lifestyle changes and other natural treatments that can help manage swollen lymph nodes. What are other ways to manage swollen lymph nodes?
- Warm compress: Apply a warm or wet compress to your affected area several times per day.
- Massage therapy: Regular massage sessions can help reduce swollen lymph nodes and swelling. Another option is to gently massage your lymph nodes daily for about 15 minutes. This will stimulate the lymph nodes to improve lymphatic function. You can also massage your swollen lymph glands with carrier oils like jojoba, sweet almond, oregano, and eucalyptus oil to help excrete flow and decrease inflammation.
- Exercise: It is also a good idea to exercise at least five days each week for 30 minutes a day. Exercise will increase the flow of the lymphatic system. Examples of exercises for swollen lymph nodes include yoga, walking, or light jogging.
- Diet: The proper diet is also very important to reduce swollen lymph nodes in the neck. It is best to consume foods that boost the immune system. Some good choices include dark green leafy vegetables, bone broth soups, and freshly-squeezed vegetable juices. It is also a good idea to reduce sugar, dairy, and wheat.