Swollen Glands

What are swollen glands?

“Swollen glands” refer to swollen lymph nodes, indicating that the body is fighting an infection or some other type of illness. This condition is typically characterised by sore throat, headache and fatigue.

What are lymph nodes and what is their purpose?

Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped masses of tissue components of a large lymphatic system. We have hundreds of lymph nodes located throughout our body. They help our body battle infections and other diseases. When lymphatic fluid moves through our body, viruses, bacteria and other harmful substances are trapped by the lymphocytes (immune cells) within the lymph glands and are destroyed. This keeps the pathogens from spreading further.

Tonsils are lymph tissues and can become swollen and inflamed to fight illnesses like tonsillitis. This condition, though more common among children, may occur among adults as well. Swollen lymph nodes may be felt in different areas of the body, like behind the ears, under the jaw, the lower part of the back of the head, armpits and the groin area. 

What are the causes and concerns?

Following are the most common causes of swollen glands:

  • Viral infections, including mononucleosis, or “mono”
  • Skin infections
  • Ear infections
  • Bacterial infections, including strep throat
  • Infected teeth or mouth sores
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, also known as STDs
  • Immunodeficiency conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), HIV infections and lupus
  • Possible side effects from certain medication or vaccines
  • Cancers like Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukaemia and breast cancer

When the swollen glands are soft, tender and moveable, it typically indicates inflammation or infection. Hard, painless and immovable lymph nodes are usually warning signs of more serious conditions. They should be examined by a head and neck specialist.

What are its symptoms?

Normally, our glands are approximately one-half inch in diameter and we should not feel them. However, they may swell up to twice or thrice their usual size when our body is fighting off an illness. At this point, we can feel them very easily. Some more signs and symptoms of swollen glands are:

  • Sore throat, sores in the mouth and/or fever 
  • Glands that feel “lumpy”
  • Pain or tenderness when pressure is applied
  • The skin over the gland is warm, red and swollen

What are the solutions and treatment options?

As with many conditions, treatment for swollen glands depends on the cause. There are some home remedies that you can try to reduce the pain and discomfort that accompany this condition, like:

  • Warm, wet compresses: Apply to the affected areas for a soothing effect.
  • Over the counter painkillers: Tylenol (Acetaminophen) and anti-inflammatory medications like Advil (Ibuprofen) help in reducing the swelling and inflammation. However, one must take care never to administer aspirin to a child, as there is a significant risk for Reye’s syndrome.
  • Rest: Rest helps the body recover from illness.

Usually, after the condition has been treated and you feel better again, the lymph nodes shrink back to their standard size.

In some cases, swollen glands require treatment from a healthcare professional, typically when they are accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Problems swallowing
  • High fever (more than 104 degrees F)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tender, hard, large swollen nodes that do not reduce in size
  • The skin over the top of the swollen lymph nodes appears reddened
  • Night sweats

In conclusion

Swollen glands can generally be treated at home and are no cause for great concern. However, if you have more serious symptoms, it is best to take the help of qualified healthcare professionals. Book an appointment with us and our head and neck specialists will help you get the care and treatment you need!

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