Swollen lymph nodes can happen for a number of reasons, which leads people to question whether they should be worried about them or not. Sometimes swollen lymph nodes happen because of a virus or bacteria. In other cases, they can occur due to cancer, although this is rare. Nevertheless, it is important to have a better understanding so you can take the right course of action. With that being said, read on to discover everything you need to know.
Your lymph nodes, also known as lymph glands, play a critical role in your ability to fend off infections. They act as filters, trapping bacteria, viruses, and other causes of illness before they can end up infecting other areas of your body. Some of the common places where you may have noticed swollen lymph nodes include in your groin, in your armpits, under your chin, and in your neck. You may also have a lymph node swollen behind your ear.
In some cases, all you need is a warm compress and a little bit of patience to treat a swollen lymph node. However, in other instances, treatment may be required. Ultimately, it depends on what infection has caused the lymph node to form to begin with.
Understanding the different causes of lymph nodes
Before we take a look at some of the signs and indications that you should see a doctor, let’s review some of the main causes of lymph nodes.
Lymph nodes are round, small, or bean-shaped cell clusters. There are a number of different kinds of immune system cells inside the lymph nodes. These special cells filter your lymphatic fluid as it moves through your body. This kills any harmful invaders and keeps you healthy.
Lymph nodes are situated in groups, with every group draining a certain part of your body. The area of your swollen lymph nodes can help in terms of determining the underlying issue.
The most common reason why people experience swollen lymph nodes is that they have an infection, especially a viral infection such as the common cold. However, there are some other reasons why you may be experiencing swollen lymph nodes as well. We will group them into different sections so you can get a better understanding.
- The human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which is the virus that causes AIDS
- Wound or skin infections, such as cellulitis
- An infected or abscessed tooth
- Ear infections
- Strep throat
- Cat Scratch Fever – This is a bacterial infection that can be caused when a cat bites or scratches someone
- Toxoplasmosis – A parasitic infection that can be caused when you have eaten undercooked meat or had contact with the faeces of an infected cat
- Certain STIs (sexually transmitted infections), including syphilis
- Leukaemia – This is cancer of the blood-forming tissue in your body, including your lymphatic system and bone marrow
- Lymphoma – This is a type of cancer that originates in your lymphatic system
- Any other type of cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes
Immune system disorders
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This is a chronic inflammatory disease that takes aim at the synovium tissues, i.e., the tissues that line your joints
- Lupus – This is another chronic inflammatory disease, that targets your lungs, heart, blood cells, kidneys, skin, and joints
There can be other causes of swollen lymph nodes. Although rare, this may be caused by the medication you are taking. Preventive medications for malaria and Dilantin (Phenytoin), which is an anti-seizure medication, could be the reasons why you’re experiencing such symptoms.
How do you know whether you have a swollen lymph node?
Your lymphatic system is a network of lymph nodes, vessels, and organs, that are located throughout your entire body. A lot of lymph nodes can be found in your neck and head area. Lymph nodes that swell are usually in this area, as well as your groyne area and armpits.
If you notice a swollen lymph node, it is a sign that something is not quite functioning in your body as it should be. You may notice that the swelling is the size of a pea, or a little bit larger than that, and you may experience some pain and tenderness in the area too.
Some people do experience other symptoms, yet it does depend on the reason behind your swollen lymph node. To help you get a better understanding, though, here are some symptoms that could be coupled with a swollen lymph node:
– Sweats during the night
- Fixed, hard, and rapidly growing nodes, which could indicate lymphoma or a possible cancer
- Lymph nodes are experiencing general swelling throughout all of your body, which may indicate that you have an immune system disorder, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, or that you have an infection, such as mononucleosis or HIV
- Fever, a sore throat, a runny nose, and other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection
As you can see, there are a number of different symptoms that people can experience when suffering from swollen lymph nodes. Because of this, it makes sense to see a doctor so you can get to the bottom of the symptoms you are experiencing. In most cases, you will not have anything to worry about. However, if there is something wrong, early treatment can quite literally be a lifesaver.
When should you see a doctor?
If you are unsure whether or not you should see a doctor, the fact that you are asking this question indicates that you probably should. We definitely recommend seeing a medical professional if the lymph nodes have appeared for no apparent reason. If they come with unexplained weight loss, night sweats, or a fever that doesn’t go away, you should see a doctor.
You should also see your doctor if the lymph nodes feel rubbery or hard, or if they do not move when you push on them. If they have been present for over two weeks and they are getting bigger, book an appointment. Also, you should see a doctor right away if you are having trouble breathing or swallowing.
Complications caused by swollen lymph nodes
If your swollen lymph nodes have occurred because you have an infection, and you do not get this infection treated, it can cause an abscess to form. Abscesses are basically localised collections of pus that are caused by infections. Pus contains bacteria, dead tissue, white blood cells, fluid, and other invaders. You may need to get the abscess drained and follow a course of antibiotic treatment.
Book an appointment with your doctor if you suspect you have a swollen lymph node
If you have noticed any of the signs or symptoms we have discussed above, the best thing you can do is book an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to assess the lymph node, consider its location, and carry out any tests that are needed to discover why it has appeared. This will then enable them to put forward the best treatment plan for you. In most cases, swollen lymph nodes are harmless. However, this is not always the case, which is why it is always better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes.