What are swollen lymph nodes?
When you’re not feeling so great, like you’re coming down with something, you may notice some swelling on the sides of your neck. Those lumps probably feel soft and tender to the touch — and may even hurt a little.
Swollen lymph nodes (or what doctors call lymphadenopathy) are common and are actually a good thing. The swelling in these pea- or bean-sized lymph nodes are one of your body’s natural reactions to illness or infection. That tells doctors that your body’s healthy and robust immune system is working to clear away infection and/or invading viruses or bacteria.
Many people call them swollen glands ― even though they’re really not glands, but part of your lymphatic system. One of your body’s lesser known systems, it’s in charge of balancing your fluid levels.
Your swollen glands act like filters that help your body get rid of germs, cells or other foreign matter that passes through your lymph fluid (a clear or slightly yellowish fluid made up of white blood cells, proteins and fats).
And when you think of swollen glands, you most likely think of swelling in your neck. But the lymph nodes in your groin, under your chin and your armpits can swell too. You can even move them slightly with your fingers.
You also have lymph nodes throughout your body that you can’t feel. There’s a network of about 600 of them (the exact count actually varies by person) in your:
What causes swollen lymph nodes?
The most common cause of lymph node swelling in your neck is an upper respiratory infection, which can take 10 to 14 days to resolve completely. As soon as you start feeling better, the swelling should go down as well, though it may take a few weeks longer to go away completely.
Other bacteria and viruses that may cause your lymph nodes to become swollen include:
Your lymph nodes get larger when more blood cells come to fight off an invading infection. They all essentially pile in, causing pressure and swelling.
Often, the lymph nodes that swell will be close to the infection’s site. (That means a person with strep throat might develop swollen lymph nodes in their neck.)