There are 500-600 lymph nodes distributed throughout the human body. The lymphatic system circulates 1-2 liters of the lymph fluid every day.The lymphatic system plays the role of an important sentry in the immune system of the body, helping it to fight infections and various other diseases. A fluid called lymph fluid, is carried by the lymphatic system throughout the body; this fluid carries nutrients and waste materials. Now, this lymph fluid gets filtered by pea-sized lumps of tissue called lymph nodes. These nodes trap and destroy pathogens like viruses, bacteria and other substances that may be harmful to the body.
Under normal state, lymph nodes measure 1-2 cm across. But factors like infections, injury or tumor can cause these nodes to swell so much, that they may be easily felt or even become conspicuous. Lymph nodes can be found throughout the body. In most cases, lymph nodes in neck, under the chin, groin and armpit are easily noticed when they swell up. In babies, if a lymph node is more than 1 cm, then it is considered to be swollen.
☛ In most cases, swelling of lymph nodes indicate a viral infection such as the common cold. It may also be triggered by bacterial or parasitic infections, which include:
☛ Lymph nodes in the neck may swell up in response to any injury caused to the area. Likewise, the same could also cause lymph nodes in other areas of the body to swell up.
• Strep throat
• Dental abscess
• Ear infection
☛ Doctors also come across cases where cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma are found to be the cause behind swelling of lymph nodes. A cancer that is no more localized and has spread to the lymph nodes, may also cause the same. Fortunately, such cases are rare.
☛ Less commonly or rarely, swollen lymph nodes may also be caused by:
• Sexually transmitted diseases
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Medicines used in the treatment of seizures
☛ Swollen lymph nodes are easily noticeable as lumps in the affected area, which in this case is the neck.
☛ The nodes are tender and painful to touch. Also, they are usually soft and move easily.
☛ If an infection is the underlying cause, then symptoms of the infection would also occur besides the swelling. For example, if common cold is the cause, then fever, watery eyes, cough, sore throat, runny nose, etc., would also be present.
☛ The skin in the area of the swollen lymph nodes would also swell, redden, and be warm to touch.
☛ In some cases, a lymph node may be swollen, but is hard to touch and not painful. Such cases require further medical evaluation because they may be linked to cancer.
☛ Swelling in lymph nodes reduces when its underlying cause is taken care of. If the cause is a viral infection, then a wait-and-watch approach is taken. Once the virus has run its course, the infection will resolve on its own. For bacterial infections, a course of antibiotics is prescribed. If cancer is ruled out as a likely cause behind the condition, then a medical diagnosis to confirm the cancer would be performed, and the required treatment would follow.
☛ Patients can make themselves comfortable at home by applying warmth to the swollen area. This helps in relieving pain or discomfort. A clean washcloth can be dipped in warm water, wrung, and held against the swollen area.
☛ If sore throat is present, then it can be relieved by gargling warm saline water. Eating more of liquid foods may also help reduce pain and irritation of a sore throat.
☛ To deal with pain and accompanying fever, over-the-counter medicines can be used. However, if the patient is a child, then a doctor's advice must be sought before using any medication.
The swelling of lymph nodes is not a condition, but a symptom of something else that is affecting the body. Since cancer is also one of the rare but possible underlying causes of this problem, an early medical visit is considered a wise step to take, particularly when the swelling does not resolve even after about a month.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.