Swollen Glands

Do you have a sore throat, headache and fatigue? It is possible that you could have swollen lymph nodes, also called "swollen glands." Typically, if your glands are swollen, it is an indication that your body is fighting an infection or some other type of illness.

Purpose of lymph nodes

Helping your body battle infections and other diseases, lymph nodes are bean-shaped, small glands of tissue components of a large lymphatic system. When lymphatic fluid moves through your body, lymphocytes (immune cells) within the lymph glands trap viruses, bacteria and other possibly harmful substances and destroy them. This helps keep these pathogens from spreading any further.


No doubt, you are already aware of the lymph nodes found in your neck. However, you actually have hundreds of lymph nodes located throughout your entire body. Your tonsils are also classified as lymph tissue. Sometimes, they can become swollen and inflamed to fight illnesses like tonsillitis. This condition is most common in children, but adults can also contract it. Other areas of the body where you might feel swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Behind your ears
  • Under your jaw
  • The lower part of the back of your head
  • Your armpits
  • Your groin area

Symptoms and signs

Under normal circumstances, you should not be able to feel your glands. Normally, they are approximately one-half inch in diameter. However, when you or your child fights off an illness, these glands may swell to double or triple their regular size. At this point, they can be felt very easily. Additional signs and symptoms of swollen glands include:

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

Causes and concerns

Soft, tender and moveable swollen glands are typically signs of an inflammation or infection. Lymph nodes that are painless, feel hard to the touch and resist movement need further examination by an ear, nose and throat specialist, as they could be warning signs of more serious conditions. The most common causes of swollen glands include:

  • Bacterial infections including strep throat
  • Infected teeth or mouth sores
  • Viral infections including mononucleosis, also known as "mono"
  • Skin infections
  • Ear infections
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI)
  • Cancers like Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia and breast cancer
  • Immunodeficiency conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus and HIV infections
  • Possible side effects from vaccines or other types of medications

Solutions and options

After the illness has been treated and you feel better overall, your lymph nodes should shrink back to normal. Treatment of your swollen glands tends to be cause-dependent. The following home remedies can prove to be helpful in reducing the pain and discomfort you are experiencing:

  • Non-prescription pain relievers: Tylenol (acetaminophen) and anti-inflammatory medications like Advil (ibuprofen) and help reduce the swelling and inflammation. However, do not ever administer aspirin to a child, as there is a risk for Reye's syndrome.
  • Warm, wet compresses: Apply to the affected areas for a soothing effect.
  • Rest: Make sure to get lots of rest, as this helps your body recover from illness.

When to see a Doctor

There are some symptoms and indications that your swollen glands require treatment from a healthcare professional. 

Additional treatment may be required if swollen glands are accompanied by:

  • A high fever (more than 104 degrees F)
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Problems swallowing
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained loss of weight
  • Reddened skin over top of the swollen lymph nodes
  • Large swollen nodes that are very tender, hard to the touch and do not reduce in size

The majority of cases of swollen glands are no cause for great concern. They usually go away with basic treatment at home. However, the more serious symptoms mentioned above should never be ignored. If you are experiencing persistent or problematic swollen glands, contact our office for an appointment. One of our competent ear, nose and throat specialists can offer you a solution and treatment.