About swollen lymph nodes
There are lymph nodes throughout your body. They’re part of your immune system. They filter your blood and kill any viruses and bacteria they catch.
Lymph nodes become swollen for many reasons. It’s usually nothing to worry about.
Swollen lymph nodes happen most often when your body is fighting a viral or bacterial infection like a sore throat or glandular fever.
Swollen lymph nodes can also happen if a part of your body is inflamed – for example, because of an abrasion, a burn or an insect bite.
Some young children with eczema have swollen lymph nodes all the time. This is because germs more easily pass through their inflamed skin into their body and the lymph nodes help to get rid of them.
Cancer is a rare cause of swollen lymph nodes in children.
Symptoms of swollen lymph nodes
Lymph nodes might swell up all over your child’s body or just in the area near the infection or inflammation.
For example, if your child has tonsillitis, you might notice swollen and tender lumps in their neck. Or if they have a skin infection on their finger, there might be swollen and tender lumps under that arm.
Sometimes lymph nodes can swell up to several centimetres in size.
Lymph nodes can stay swollen for weeks after the infection or inflammation has cleared up.
Children’s lymph nodes are usually bigger than those of adults, so it’s easier to feel them. You can sometimes feel the ones on either side of the neck, the armpits and at the front of the groin where your child’s leg bends, even when your child is well. If your child is thin, you might even be able to see them.
Does your child need to see a doctor about swollen lymph nodes?
Sometimes. You should take your child to the GP if your child has:
- swollen lymph nodes for a few days, and there’s no obvious reason for them, like a sore throat, runny nose or other mild infection
- swollen lymph nodes in their neck and has trouble swallowing or breathing
- pain or tenderness around the swollen lymph nodes
- changes in skin colour over the swollen lymph nodes – for example, the skin is red, brown, purple or grey
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck, fever, rash, changed skin colour on the hands and soles, and red lips and tongue – these might be the signs of Kawasaki disease
- swollen lymph nodes and weight loss, night sweats or bruising
- persistently swollen lymph nodes for many weeks and they aren’t getting smaller
- swollen lymph nodes and also seems very unwell.
Treatment for swollen lymph nodes
Treatment will depend on what’s causing the swollen lymph nodes.
If your child’s swollen lymph nodes are caused by a viral infection, all you can do is treat the symptoms of the virus, like the sore throat and fever.
If your child’s lymph nodes are swollen because of a bacterial infection, your child might need antibiotics.
In rare cases, a lymph node itself becomes infected by bacteria. If this has happened, the gland will be large, the skin around it will be inflamed, and it will be very painful, especially when you press on it. Seek immediate medical attention – your child will need antibiotics and might need the infection drained.