Your body has 500-600 lymph nodes or lymph glands. They are distributed in clusters throughout your body, but you are probably most aware of the lymph glands in your neck and jaw area. Other major clusters are found under the armpits and in the groin area.
The role of lymph glands
Lymph glands are an important part of your body. They maintain the balance of fluids in your blood and in your tissue, they facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients and they help the immune system defend against bacteria by manufacturing antibodies.
Lymph glands produce antibodies when the immune system identifies the presence of a foreign substance. These antibodies counteract the invaders by rendering them harmless to the body. During this biological warfare, your lymph glands can become swollen.
Signs of swollen glands
You usually don’t feel your lymph glands and probably aren’t even aware they are present in your body. Most times, your glands are only about half-an-inch in diameter. However, when your immune system is fighting an infection, they can swell up to triple their normal size. Once the lymph glands are swollen, they are easy to feel and may even be visible.
Symptoms of swollen lymph glands include:
- Pain or tenderness when gentle pressure is applied to the gland
- Sore throat, fever and oral sores
- Skin over the gland that is warm, red and swollen skin
- Lumpy feeling glands
Causes of swollen glands
Swollen, sore or tender glands usually signify activity by the immune system. These swollen glands often accompany an infection. Swollen lymph nodes that are hard and painless can be a warning sign of more serious conditions. The most common causes of swollen glands include:
- Bacterial infections such as strep throat, tonsillitis or sinusitis
- Infected tooth or oral sores
- Viral infections such as mononucleosis
- Skin infections
- Ear infections
- Cancers like Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and breast cancer
- Immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus and HIV infections
- Side effects from vaccines or other medications
When to seek medical attention
If you have a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, difficulty breathing or swallowing, night sweats, weight loss or abdominal pain, contact Golla ENT for a complete evaluation and treatment. In addition, persistent swollen glands are also a sign it’s time to see your ENT doctor.