The lymphatic system is composed of lymph nodes and ducts, which are distributed throughout the body. Lymph nodes are an important component of the immune system, as some white blood cells are stored in them in order to fight viruses, bacteria, and other infectious microorganisms. Their main function is to filter fluid, store white blood cells, and eliminate bacteria and viruses from the body.
Though lymph nodes are distributed throughout the body, they can be more easily felt in certain areas, like the neck, groin, and the armpit. Sometimes, lymph nodes present behind the ears, and under the jaw and the chin can also be felt with the fingers. They can enlarge and become painful in certain conditions, which are discussed below.
Pain in Lymph Nodes
Viral and bacterial infections are the most common causes of swollen and painful lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are responsible for storing white blood cells that fight harmful microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses. Whenever an infectious agent attacks the body, the immune system produces more white blood cells to destroy it, which can cause the lymph nodes to enlarge and become painful.
Other than infections, an injury can also cause swelling of the lymph nodes of that particular area. Conditions like, common cold, flu, a sore throat, ear infections, formation of an abscess under the skin, and mononucleosis can cause painful cervical lymph nodes. Cervical lymph nodes are located in the neck. Tonsillitis is another condition that can cause the lymph nodes of the neck and the jaw to enlarge and become painful.
Painful lymph nodes in the chest are however, quite rare. Cancer usually does not cause this condition. Cancers like leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can cause swollen, but painless lymph nodes. Apart from cancer or lymphoma, some other causes of enlarged lymph nodes are, autoimmune conditions, lupus, syphilis, and AIDS. On other hand, painful lumps in the breast or chest are usually caused by factors other than swollen lymph nodes.
This condition is usually accompanied by swelling. Swollen lymph nodes can be soft or hard to touch. The pain is usually mild and well tolerable. Depending on the underlying causes, this condition can also be accompanied by fever, tiredness, and weight loss. Sometimes, the color of the skin above the lymph node may undergo some changes. For example, there can be pink or red discoloration of the skin above the lymph nodes at times.
As painful and swollen lymph nodes can be associated with several health conditions, they can be treated only after ascertaining the underlying causes. The pain and the swelling can sometimes resolve on their own without any medical intervention. If the pain becomes unbearable or it is accompanied by fever, you can take acetaminophen.
However, it is advisable to consult your physician before taking any kind of medications. The pain caused by enlarged lymph nodes can also be relieved with the application of heat. You can use an electric heating pad or a warm, wet towel for this purpose. If swollen lymph nodes are caused by a sore throat, then you can use warm saline water for gargling.
If the lymph nodes are tender to touch, and they are more than 1 inch in size, then talk to your physician, as these could be the sign of a serious infection. Another sign of a serious infection is pink or red discoloration of the skin above the lymph nodes. If you observe such signs, consult your physician immediately, in order to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.