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If you’ve ever had strep throat, chances are you’ve experienced swollen glands.
Your body has a system of lymph nodes, or lymph glands, that can be found primarily in your neck, chin, armpits, chest and groin. The lymph nodes act as a filter for your body, trapping viruses and bacteria before they can affect other parts of your body.
Generally speaking, when your lymph nodes are swollen, it’s due to an infection or underlying disease.
You may first notice pain or tenderness around the affected lymph node, which may swell to the size of a pea or kidney bean. Other symptoms that often accompany swollen lymph nodes can include runny nose, sore throat, coughing and other signs of an upper respiratory infection; fever or night sweats.
Some of the more common causes for swollen lymph nodes include viral or bacterial infections such as the common cold, mono or strep throat. As the infection clears up, the swelling goes down.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat an underlying bacterial infection or recommend ibuprofen or acetaminophen to lower a fever or ease pain. Warm compresses may also help reduce swelling.
In other cases, swollen lymph nodes may indicate an underlying disease such as auto immune disorders including lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. In those cases, your doctor will work with you to treat the underlying disease.
Though not as common, swollen lymph nodes can also indicate cancer, in which case treatment could include surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
In the most common cases, swelling should go down as the infection clears up. This could take about two weeks. In more serious cases, such as cancer, swelling may be chronic and not resolve.
You should contact your doctor if the swelling persists and does not resolve within two to four weeks, if the lymph nodes feel hard or rubbery, if the swelling occurs with unexplained weight loss, night sweats or a persistent fever or if the swelling appears with no cause.
When your medical needs can’t wait, Edward-Elmhurst Health has board-certified providers ready to treat your non-emergency urgencies. Find a Walk-In Clinic or Immediate Care Center near you.
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