It is common for children and adults to have swollen lymph nodes. Then they are often tender and bigger than they usually are. For example, it may be due to a viral infection in a cold, a bacterial infection in the throat, or a wound that is infected. If you have swollen lymph glands larger than two centimeters, they should be examined by a doctor.

What is a lymph node?

The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system and the immune system. The lymph nodes are collected in groups in, for example, the armpits, neck, jaw angles, groin, behind the sternum. They are also scattered one by one. There are between 500 and 1000 lymph nodes in the body.

The lymph nodes act as a filter. The lymph nodes usually swell if there is an infection nearby. Then you can feel them as elongated, slightly tender bumps under the skin. The fact that the lymph nodes are swollen is because they are working to activate the immune system.

It is common for you to feel the lymph nodes of children even if they are not ill. In adults, the lymph nodes are about the same size as a grain of rice and usually do not feel. 

Symptoms of swollen lymph nodes

A swollen lymph node can be sore when you touch it. So it is if the swelling is due to an infection. Then it can hurt when you do certain movements. For example, it may feel tender when you turn your head or chew if the lymph nodes under the jaw are swollen. Sometimes children tilt their heads to the side with sore lymph nodes.

In some cases, the lymph nodes are swollen but not tender. This is usually because it can take a long time for the swelling to go back after an upper respiratory tract infection.

Sometimes the lymph nodes do not go back to full size

In some cases, the lymph nodes do not fully recover in size even though the infection has passed. In children between one and six years old, infections can come close, especially during the winter months. Then you can feel the baby’s lymph nodes more or less clearly throughout the winter. They feel much like small beans.

When and where should I seek care?

Seek treatment at a health center about the lymph nodes

  • swelling in connection with a wound infection
  • is larger than 1.5 centimeters without you as an adult or your child having a severe throat infection
  • hurts a lot.

Contact a health care center if you, as an adult or your child, have swollen lymph nodes in several places on the body and at the same time are pale, tired or have a fever.

Various causes of swollen lymph nodes

There are many reasons why the lymph nodes swell. Here you can read about some.

It may be due to a viral infection

Most often, swollen lymph nodes are caused by a viral infection such as a cold or glandular fever. Then the lymph nodes on both sides of the throat are often swollen. Then no special treatment is needed but the hassle goes away by itself.

Sometimes, swollen lymph nodes are caused by a bacterial infection

Swollen lymph nodes can also be caused by a bacterial infection such as throat flux. Even then, the lymph nodes on both sides of the throat tend to be swollen.

Children can get a direct bacterial infection in the lymph nodes

Children can get a bacterial infection in a lymph node on one side of the neck without any connection to throat flux. It is usually caused by streptococcal bacteria or staphylococcal bacteria. It hurts and the skin over the gland can turn red. The child usually has a high fever.

Swollen lymph nodes may be due to harpist

It is uncommon but harpists can cause swollen lymph nodes. First, a small wound or small bump is formed on the sting site if it was a mosquito that spreads the disease. The wound can be difficult to heal. Then the lymph nodes that are closest to the sting can be swollen by the infection. Other symptoms of harpist are fever, rash, headache, and nausea.

Tuberculosis can cause swollen lymph nodes

Another reason for swollen lymph nodes may be tuberculosis. It is an infectious lung disease that is uncommon in many countries. Sometimes tuberculosis settles on the lymph nodes. Then the lymph nodes on one side of the throat usually swell. They do not usually get sore and usually the child does not feel sick at all. Lymph node tuberculosis is not contagious.

Because tuberculosis is uncommon in many countries, not all children are vaccinated against the disease. However, the disease can be serious and treatment can be difficult. Children who are at increased risk of becoming infected usually receive vaccines against the most serious forms of tuberculosis.

Children who are vaccinated against tuberculosis can have a side effect, which means that the lymph node in the armpit swells on the same side as they received the syringe.

Swollen lymph nodes may be due to leukemia or lymphoma

It is very uncommon but sometimes swollen lymph nodes can be due to cancer diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma.

Sometimes the doctor does not know what it is due to

Sometimes it can be difficult for the doctor to determine why the lymph nodes are swollen. Then you can wait and see if the swelling goes down by itself. It can take up to three weeks.

Investigations

At the health center, the doctor examines the lymph nodes. They then look at whether they are so swollen that it is visible on the body, if they are tender and if it is red in the area around the lymph gland. Then the doctor examines the lymph nodes with your fingers. Then they feel if they are tender, what they have for shape, size, and texture. They also check if the lymph nodes are moving or if they are stuck to the ground. After that, the doctor examines the child’s other lymph nodes in the neck, neck pits, armpits and groins to find out if they are also swollen.

Ultrasound and cell examination

Sometimes an ultrasound examination is performed. Then the doctor can see if there is any location in the lymph node or if there are more lymph nodes in the depth.

Sometimes the doctor also does a cell examination. It is made with a thin needle and is called a fine needlepoint. The sampling itself takes a few minutes and feels like a small stick. First, you get stunned. Then the doctor stabs the swollen lymph gland with a thin needle. Then tissue material enters the needle. Then the sample is examined with DNA analysis, bacterial culture or with other cell investigations.

In rare cases, the swollen lymph gland is removed. It is then sent to a laboratory to be examined at the cellular level. 

Treatment for swollen lymph nodes

The treatment for swollen lymph nodes you receive depends on what it is that has made the lymph gland swollen.

Sometimes antibiotic treatment is needed

Sometimes the swollen lymph nodes are caused by a bacterial infection, for example, throat flux. Then you as an adult or your child can be treated with antibiotics. After a few days of treatment for swollen lymph nodes, the swelling usually diminishes and is usually completely gone after a week.

Children who have a direct bacterial infection in a lymph node are also treated with antibiotics. In some cases, the child needs to be operated if it has been formed where it needs to come out.

The harpist is treated with antibiotics.

Treatment for tuberculosis in the lymph nodes

Tuberculosis in the lymph nodes is treated in the same way as tuberculosis in the lungs. The tuberculosis bacteria is slowly affected by drugs. Therefore, medicines must be taken for at least six months. In order to avoid the bacteria developing resistance, so-called resistance, to the medicines, you must simultaneously take several different drugs that act in different ways against the tubercle bacteria.

Ehtisham Nadeem

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