Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands throughout the body. They help the body fight germs and infections. Lymphadenitis is a swelling of a lymph node. It can be caused by an infection or other condition.

The infection is most often in a nearby part of the body. A common example is the lumps on both sides of your neck under the jaw that get tender and bigger when you have a cold or sore throat. Sometimes the lymph node itself may be infected.

Usually the swollen lymph nodes go back to normal size without a problem. Treatment, if needed, focuses on treating the cause. For example, a bacterial infection may be treated with antibiotics. This should bring the node back to normal size. An infection caused by a virus often goes away on its own. In rare cases, a badly infected node may need to be drained by your doctor.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines.
    • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
    • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If you have pain, try a warm compress. Soak a towel or face cloth in warm water. Wring it out, and place it on the affected skin.
  • Do not squeeze, drain, or puncture a painful lump. Doing this can irritate or inflame the lump, push any existing infection deeper into the skin, or cause severe bleeding.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your lymph nodes get bigger.
  • The area becomes red and feels more tender.
  • You have a fever that does not go away.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.