There are countless potential causes that might cause the development of a swollen lymph node in the neck. These conditions might be accompanied by other signs and symptoms such as fever, throat pain or weight loss. Severe or malignant causes are not common and most cases resolve spontaneously within a few weeks. Lymph nodes are usually less than 1 cm and are not palpable which means they could not be felt with hands under normal conditions.
Lymph Nodes in the Neck
Lymph nodes in the neck, which are known as cervical lymph nodes, are often enlarged because of the various infections in the head and neck. Upper respiratory tract infections are very common and an important entity in this category. A good number of such infections are presented with fever and sore throat. Cervical lymph nodes may also enlarge due to systemic infections such as infectious mononucleosis that is caused by Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus infection.
Sometimes, cervical lymph nodes become inflamed over a few days and acquire a rubbery consistency. It is primarily seen in children and it is mostly due to staphylococcal and streptococcal infections. Although the source of such an infection could be a pharyngitis (sore throat), careful examination is requires to identify the source in unapparent cases. These patients should receive antibiotics and their lymph node should be opened to allow the draining of puss and eliminated the potential source for further infection and complication.
If a number of cervical lymph nodes become enlarged over weeks to months, then an infection with mycobacterium tuberculosis should be considered. These patients do not have significant inflammation and occasionally develop fever. This is a form of regional tuberculosis which is primarily seen in head and neck. Another diseases which can cause cervical lymphadenopathy is called cat scratch disease. It is caused by Bartonella henselae and can be presented as multiple enlarged cervical lymph nodes.
Other less common systemic diseases can also be accompanied by cervical lymph node enlargement but these disease show other characteristic features which lead to diagnosis. Enlarged cervical lymph nodes could also be seen with head and neck malignancies. The two important diseases in this group are lymphomas and metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. It is of utmost importance to note that enlargement of a lymph node above the clavicle is highly suggestive of an internal malignancy. This is considered a neck lymph node by most people but, technically, it is a supraclavicular lymph node. It is very important to see your doctor when an enlarged lymph node in your neck does not regress spontaneously within a few weeks.
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