What are Swollen Lymph Nodes?
Lymph nodes are also known as lymph glands, or just glands, and form part of the lymphatic system. They are tiny, bean-shaped clusters of cells found in groups or chains throughout the body. Lymph nodes are the most important component of the immune system and within these glands, lymphocytes (immune cells) exist.
Glands consist of lymphatic tissue surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue and are located in the armpits, on either side of the neck, inside the chest, abdomen, pelvis and in the groin.
Lymph nodes filter the lymphatic fluid and trap infectious particles and foreign material such as cancer cells or bacteria that are traveling through the body in the lymph fluid. They serve as one of the body’s barriers to infection and play an important role in the immune response.
Swollen Lymph Nodes in Babies & Children
When a baby or child gets swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck, it means that their body is doing its job. Swollen lymph nodes commonly show that your child has an infection somewhere in their body. Children of all ages, especially in the first years, tend to get multitudes of infections, the simplest being an infection from a cut or a scrape.
When your child’s lymph nodes are noticeably swollen in the neck, many times it’s a sign of an upper respiratory infection. Oftentimes, the lymph nodes in the neck will lessen in size as the body’s natural defenses work to control and get rid of the infection. If the infection worsens, medical attention is required. Also, if your child is displaying symptoms such as redness, inflammation, or weight loss due to a lymph node, make sure you seek professional advice.
Swollen Lymph Nodes During Pregnancy
Many women report swollen lymph nodes during pregnancy. Commonly as the body goes through its hormonal and physical changes, so do the lymph nodes. Sometimes the lymph node under your arm can become swollen due to milk production in the breasts. In addition, since infections are common during pregnancy, even the lymph nodes in your neck can become swollen. This just means your body is fighting off a specific infection, usually forming in the upper respiratory system.
But perhaps a more concerning reason for this lymph node change could be due to Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is an infection that is caused by parasites found in soil, uncooked meat containing the parasite, cat litter and cat feces. Though the contraction of toxoplasmosis is relatively rare, it can be passed onto your unborn baby. Research has shown that even though 9 out of 10 pregnant women are susceptible to toxoplasmosis, less than one in a thousand women will get it.
What Causes Swollen Lymph Nodes?
When a disease spreads to or involves the lymph nodes, they become enlarged and swollen – this is called lymphadenopathy and is a common sign of infection. Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by a multitude of different conditions and swelling of these glands is often one of the first signs that something is wrong.
The causes of swollen lymph nodes include:
- Fungal Infections (e.g. Yeast infections)
- Menstrual Cycle
- Cancer of the breast, lung, stomach, throat and melanoma
- Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
- Stress & Anxiety
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Viral Infections (e.g. Influenza, Mumps, Glandular Fever)
- Bug Bites
- Tooth Decay
- Bacterial infections (e.g. Tonsillitis, infected cuts, and abscesses)
- Parasitic infections
- Gaucher’s disease
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Non-Hodgkins Lymphomas
- Siogren’s Syndrome
- Strep Throat
Enlargement of the glands can be rapid or gradual. Rapid swelling is common with viral or bacterial infections and can be accompanied by pain. Other diseases such as cancer usually cause a slow and gradual growth, which tends to be pain-free.
Lymphoedema is the term used to describe swelling of a part of the body due to obstruction of the flow of the lymph. This tends to occur after removal of the lymph glands for conditions such as cancer (e.g. swelling in the arm after surgery for breast cancer) when the lymph glands are removed. Sometimes lymphoedema may also present itself after treatment for lymphoma following radiotherapy or lymph node biopsy.
Help for Swollen Lymph Nodes
Treating swollen lymph nodes typically depends on the cause. If the nodes are inflamed, you do not have to be concerned. However, if you have symptoms of some other condition together with enlarged lymph nodes, you should seek immediate medical assessment.
Pain relievers and medication to reduce a fever such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are the standard form of treatment for swollen lymph nodes. Applying warm compresses and elevating the affected area may also help to reduce swelling. Since the lymphatic vessels are just below the skin and can easily be stimulated, massage therapy can also reduce the effects of swollen lymph nodes. If the swelling is caused by infection, antibiotics and antiviral medications may be prescribed.
People with immune disorders may also be prescribed medication to reduce swelling. A localized abscess may need to be drained by cutting the skin open and removing the infected material. More severe episodes of swelling are often due to malignancy and surgery; radiation or chemotherapy may be required.
Natural and holistic treatments are also beneficial in treating the certain underlying causes of swollen lymph nodes. Treatments such as herbal and homeopathic remedies are gentle and help to ensure overall health and well-being without the risk of side effects. Herbs such as Hypoxis rooperii (extract of African Potato) help to boost the immune system and act as a strengthening tonic. Viscum album also enhances the immune system while reducing inflammation and encouraging repair of damaged cells.
In addition, herbs such as Echinacea (Echinacea spp.), Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) are used in acute conditions to boost immunity and improve the flow of lymph. Remember to source herbal remedies from a reputable company, as therapeutic dosage and ingredient quality is important when using herbal medicines.