The human body has its own way of dealing with disease-causing agents. Our body consists of various specialized structures that are involved in warding off infections. The network of cells, tissues and organs that are involved in such bodily processes form a part of our immune system. The immune cells are medically referred to as leukocytes or white blood cells. These are produced by parts of the body such as the bone marrow, spleen and thymus. The human body also contains masses of lymphoid tissues that contain these immune cells. These small bean-shaped clusters of lymphoid tissues are located along the lymphatic vessels throughout our body. These are referred to as lymph nodes.
Whenever pathogens find a way into the body, the nodes trap them, and the white blood cells that are stored within them destroy the bacteria, viruses or other disease-causing agents. However, these nodes may sometimes swell up in the process. Though the nodes are present throughout our body, swollen nodes can usually be felt in the neck, armpits or the groin region. If you have recently noticed or felt swollen lymph nodes in neck on one side, scroll down to find out more about the contributory factors for the enlargement of these nodes.
The lymph nodes that are located in the head and the neck region include the anterior cervical, posterior cervical, tonsillar, submandibular, submental and supraclavicular lymph nodes. As mentioned earlier, the clusters of lymphoid tissues usually swell up owing to an attack by bacteria, viruses or other disease-causing microbes. Strep throat, common cold, infectious mononucleosis, upper respiratory infections, glandular fever and tonsillitis figure in the list of pathogenic infections that may cause enlargement of the nodes in neck.
Epiglottis, which is the flap situated at the base of the tongue, can also get inflamed due to respiratory infections or trauma. If a wound in the neck region is left untreated, it may get infected. This can also cause the surrounding nodes to swell up. Inflamed sinuses, infected ear or abscessed tooth can also be responsible for causing these nodes to swell up. Medical conditions such as syphilis, tuberculosis, AIDS, rubella or toxoplasmosis can also cause them to enlarge.
While pathogenic infections are usually contributory factors, the enlargement of these nodes could sometimes be attributed to serious medical conditions. For instance, development of a tumor or cancerous growth in the neck region may cause the nodes in this area to swell up. Mouth cancer, larynx cancer, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus are some of the serious diseases that may cause the nodes to swell up. Needless to say, such conditions must be diagnosed in the early stages.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck are indicative of inflammation or infection in the body. One must therefore seek medical assistance on noticing a lump or swelling in any part of the neck. One must also consult a doctor if the skin over the nodes turns red or is painful-to-touch. If the swelling lasts for couple of weeks, or continues to increase, make sure that you get a thorough medical checkup done. Under such circumstances, doctors would conduct a physical examination, and order blood tests so as to ascertain the underlying cause of the swelling. If the blood tests don't provide any valuable insights on the underlying cause, they may conduct imaging procedures. If the doctors feel that the patient might be suffering from lymphoma, they may conduct lymph node biopsy as well.
The treatment would vary depending on the underlying cause. If the swelling is due to a pathogenic infection, doctors would first try to identify the causal organism. If the patient is diagnosed with a bacterial infection, doctors would prescribe antibiotics. The use of anti-inflammatory drugs or painkillers may also be recommended. Once the drugs begin to have the desired effect on the body, the infection would subside and the swelling would gradually disappear. However, extensive treatment would be required if serious conditions such as cancer, tuberculosis, HIV, lymphoma or leukemia are responsible for causing enlargement of the nodes. If the diagnostic tests confirm the presence of malignant growth, the treatment would involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery.
If you ever notice a lump or swelling in the neck region, get a thorough medical checkup done immediately. While pathogenic infections can be easily treated, a timely diagnosis and extensive treatment is extremely essential when it comes to serious medical conditions like cancer.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.