Lymph nodes, sometimes referred to as glands, are small structures located throughout the body. Round and tiny, the lymph nodes are responsible for filtering waste, fluids, and germs, and they play a vital role in the health of the immune system. Although there are hundreds of lymph nodes in the body, the ones most easily felt are located underneath the jaw, on either side of the neck, under the armpits, and on each side of the groin. Lymph nodes typically swell in response to an infection, including an ear infection or an upper respiratory infection. In rare cases, swollen lymph nodes could be an indication of cancer such as leukemia. Patients may wish to check for swelling in a lymph node by gently pressing around the node, and they should compare the feel of this node with the parallel lymph node on the opposite side.
The major warning signs associated with swollen lymph nodes are discussed below.
Tender Or Painful Lymph Nodes
While healthy lymph nodes are not painful, swelling can cause tender or painful lymph nodes. The pain develops as a result of inflammation of the lymph nodes, triggered by an underlying infection. Patients with tender or painful lymph nodes could experience pain during movement. For example, individuals with swollen lymph nodes in the neck might have pain while eating foods that are sticky or difficult to chew, and pain could occur with the bobbing of the head or sudden turning of the head. Painful lymph nodes may swell to the size of a pea or grape. Although they may be painful, swollen lymph nodes should still be soft. If the nodes are hard or fixed to the skin, patients should see their doctor immediately. To relieve the pain from swollen lymph nodes, it may be helpful to apply a warm compress to the area, and gentle massage might be soothing too.
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Patients with swollen lymph nodes might have a sore throat, and this is normally due to a viral or bacterial infection. For example, a sore throat is a common symptom of strep throat, sinus infections, tooth and gum infections, tonsillitis, sinus infections, influenza, and the common cold. A sore throat typically causes painful swallowing, and patients may find it difficult to eat or drink. Some patients develop a hoarse voice with a sore throat, and this can make it hard to speak at a normal volume. Since a sore throat could be an indication of an underlying medical condition, patients should see a doctor if they are still experiencing this symptom after two days, even if it is the only noticeable one. A doctor's visit is also necessary if the sore throat occurs in conjunction with a cold that lasts more than five days. Depending on the cause of the patient's sore throat, doctors may be able to provide antibiotics or other medications to reduce the severity and duration of this symptom. Patients may find it soothing to gargle with salt water and drink warm fluids as part of their home treatment.
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A fever is an abnormally high body temperature, and it can develop in response to an infection or another underlying illness. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In adults, a low-grade fever is considered to be between 98.7 and 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures above this are considered high. Patients who have a fever should monitor their temperature at least a few times a day, and oral or forehead thermometers will both produce reliable readings. To treat a fever, individuals might want to use over-the-counter fever reducers, and it can be beneficial to apply a damp cloth to the forehead. Some patients find tepid sponging to be soothing, and switching on a fan could help as well. Doctors recommend that individuals with a fever try to drink a larger volume of fluids than they normally would. Adults with a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher should make a doctor's appointment. Additionally, patients should go to an urgent care center or the emergency room if the fever occurs in conjunction with swollen lymph nodes, disorientation, continuous vomiting, chest pain, breathing issues, or a rash.
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Patients with swollen lymph nodes may sometimes experience night sweats, which usually involve very heavy sweating that may soak through sleepwear or sheets, and they tend to occur repeatedly over several nights. While night sweats on their own can be associated with hormonal changes such as menopause, night sweats that occur in conjunction with a fever or swollen lymph nodes could be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. For example, night sweats and swollen lymph nodes are both associated with leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, lupus, and other autoimmune conditions and cancers. Patients who have night sweats should see a doctor for an evaluation, and they should mention any other symptoms such as fever or swollen lymph nodes. The doctor will ask the patient questions about their medical history, and a physical examination will be performed. They will palpate the patient's lymph nodes to check for swelling, and measure the patient's temperature. Blood tests may be ordered to check for infection, and ultrasounds and other imaging studies might be recommended to assist with the diagnosis. Patients may wish to keep a log of the dates and times they have experienced night sweats to help the doctor with a thorough health history.
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A runny nose often develops with respiratory infections, including the common cold and flu. Also known as post-nasal drip, this symptom can cause a feeling of fullness or stuffiness in the nose, and patients may notice a discharge of green or yellow mucus. Patients can ease a runny nose at home with saltwater irrigation, and it can also help to increase the air humidity in the home with a humidifier. Applying a warm compress may feel soothing, and keeping the head elevated during sleep may decrease nasal congestion. Some patients find acupressure around the nasal area beneficial as well. If a runny nose is accompanied by a fever or lasts more than ten days, patients should see a doctor. A doctor's appointment is also necessary if the patient experiences green or yellow mucus; this could indicate a bacterial infection. Patients who have a runny nose and who believe their lymph nodes may be swollen should mention both of these symptoms to their physician at the appointment.