Swollen Lymph Nodes in Children

Lymph nodes are bean-shaped glands in the neck, armpits, groin, chest, and abdomen. These glands filter lymphatic fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells (lymphocytes). 

Lymphadenopathy means swelling of the lymph nodes. Lymphadenopathy can occur in one area or throughout the body. The lymph nodes in the neck (cervical lymph nodes) are the most common site of Lymphadenopathy. Almost every child will have Lymphadenopathy in their youth. 

What causes lymphadenopathy in children?

Enlarged glands often occur with viral or bacterial infections like colds, the flu, or strep throat. White blood cells and fluid build up in the lymph nodes to help fight infection or disease, causing the lymph nodes to swell.

Since enlarged lymph nodes are often near the source of infection, doctors use swollen lymph nodes to discover the condition. Lymphadenopathy appearing throughout the body is common in viral illnesses such as mono or chickenpox.

Common causes of Lymphadenopathy:

  • Infections caused by viruses or bacteria
  • A lymph node infection or affecting a small group of lymph nodes
  • Cancer, although other symptoms are often present
  • Reactions to medicines such as some antibiotics and seizure medicines
  • Juvenile arthritis and many other joint conditions that affect children

What are the symptoms of Lymphadenopathy in children?

It is normal to feel small, movable lumps or lymph nodes under a child’s skin. If the lymph nodes are more significant than expected, the child may have an infection or other condition.

Common symptoms:

  • Lumps under the jaw, down the sides or back of the neck, or in the armpits, groin, chest, or belly
  • Pain or tenderness in the area
  • Redness or warmth in the area

Depending on the cause, other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, congestion, and cough
  • Poor appetite
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Rash

Consider seeing a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is Lymphadenopathy diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s doctor or Pediatric ENT Provider will ask many questions about your child’s health and symptoms. 

They will ask if your child has had contact with others with infections, sore throats, or if there has been a cat around the child. A cat’s scratch may cause enlarged lymph nodes in a mild condition called cat-scratch disease. 

The provider will check the size and location of the lymph nodes and ask how long they have been swollen or painful. Your child may need to see a specialist for evaluation and some diagnostic tests.

Tests may include:

  • Lab tests. A complete blood count or CBC test. CBC tests check the red blood cells, white blood cells, blood clotting cells, and sometimes young red blood cells. A urine sample may be collected and evaluated.  
  • Chest X-ray. Pictures of the chest check for enlarged lymph nodes or other problems.
  • Lymph node biopsy. Samples of enlarged lymph node tissue are taken and tested for different causes of enlargement.

How is Lymphadenopathy treated in a child?

The treatment of enlarged lymph nodes depends on the cause. Enlarged lymph nodes are often harmless and go away without any treatment. 

Lymph Node treatment may include:

  • Antibiotic medicines to treat a bacterial infection, such as strep throat or ear or skin infections
  • Drainage of the lymph node for infection of a lymph node or small group of nodes
  • Follow-up exams to recheck for enlarged nodes after 3 to 4 weeks
  • Referral to a specialist for incision or drainage or more exams, diagnostic tests, and treatment

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