What to know about swollen cervical lymph nodes
The lymphatic system is a network of organs and tissues that helps support immunity. The lymph nodes are tiny, kidney-shaped structures that act as filters within this system. Their role is to trap and kill viruses and bacteria before these pathogens can return to the bloodstream.
Lymph nodes exist in different areas of the body, including the neck, or "cervical," region. Nodes in this area are called "cervical lymph nodes."
Sometimes, the cervical lymph nodes may swell. This article outlines the potential causes of this swelling, as well as information on treatment options and when to see a doctor.
Cervical lymph nodes are located in the sides and back of the neck. These glands are usually very small. However, when a lymph node is greater than 1 centimeter in diameter, it is enlarged.
The cervical lymph nodes sit deep inside the neck. For this reason, most people without medical training are unable to feel them, even when they are swollen. However, a doctor may be able to feel one or more bumps beneath the skin when examining the neck region.
In some cases, a person with swollen cervical lymph nodes may experience pain and swelling in the neck area.
A doctor can usually detect a swollen cervical lymph node by feeling a person's neck. Additional tests are often necessary to determine the size of the node and whether or not any other lymph nodes are swollen.
Diagnosing the exact cause of the swollen lymph nodes can be more difficult. To aid the diagnosis, a doctor will ask about the person's symptoms and medical history. They may also order the following diagnostic tests:
If necessary, the doctor may also perform a biopsy of the cervical lymph nodes to check for the presence of cancer cells.
The treatment options for swollen lymph nodes depend on the underlying cause, as outlined below:
A swollen lymph node usually occurs as a result of infection. In such cases, the lymph node should return to its normal size once the infection has cleared.
Swollen lymph nodes typically do not require treatment unless they are painful. However, if the symptoms are bothersome, the following home remedies may help:
- applying a warm compress several times per day to ease the soreness
- taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce discomfort
- getting plenty of rest, which helps the body fight off the infection
Journal of Phlebology and Lymphology