A guide to swollen lymph nodes

A guide to swollen lymph nodes

A guide to swollen lymph nodes

Typically caused by either bacterial or viral infection, you can experience swollen lymph nodes (or glands) in your neck and under your chin, as well as your armpits and groin area. These glands play a crucial role in your body, helping to fight off infection by acting as filters that work to trap bacteria and viruses before they can infect other parts of your body[1]. However, when they do become swollen and infected themselves, swollen lymph nodes can lead to aches and pains around the body, as well as a sore throat and trouble swallowing.

In this guide, we look at swollen lymph nodes in detail, helping you to identify and treat them, as well as explaining what else can cause swollen glands other than infection.

Identifying swollen lymph nodes

As a rule, healthy lymph nodes that are not enlarged or swollen in any way are not visible, cannot be felt with your fingers, and will usually not feel painful and tender. Therefore, when it comes to identifying swollen lymph nodes, looking and feeling for any signs of change regularly is a good idea[2].

What do swollen lymph nodes feel like?

Enlarged lymph nodes will feel like round, soft lumps that are sitting just below the surface of your skin. They are usually the size of a pea or a small grape and are likely to be tender to touch.

As lymph nodes feature on both sides of the body in parallel, a good way to check if you have swollen lymph nodes is to feel both sides of your neck, armpit and groin to compare. If the glands on one side of your body feel larger than the other, it is likely that the larger gland is swollen, indicating infection or another illness.

It’s also important to note that when it comes to the lymph nodes located in your neck, when they become swollen, you may experience pain eating and swallowing, as well as simply turning your neck in certain directions. While the cause of your swollen lymph nodes will dictate the additional symptoms you experience, they will usually include a cough, sore throat and/or other common cold and flu-like symptoms. For this reason, taking painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, as well as using a soothing Ultra Chloraseptic anaesthetic throat spray, could be a good idea if you feel the onset of swollen glands.

What do swollen lymph nodes look like?

As well as being able to physically touch and feel swollen lymph nodes, and experiencing connected symptoms, in some cases you may be able to actually see that your glands appear larger than usual. As described above, swollen lymph nodes may become visible and resemble small bumps under the surface of your skin, typically ranging from one to two inches in length.

What causes swollen lymph nodes?

As touched upon previously, the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is infection[3], with viral infections like the common cold and seasonal flu being the most frequent cause of swollen glands. Other common causes include the measles, ear infections, dental abscesses and strep throat. Less common causes include tuberculosis, syphilis, toxoplasmosis, lupus and several forms of cancer, such as lymphoma and leukaemia. 

While the majority of cases will be as a result of minor infections that will get better relatively quickly, it’s important you book an appointment with your GP if your swollen lymph nodes:

  • have been continuously swollen for more than two weeks
  • feel solid or rubbery to touch and don’t move when you push them with a finger
  • are accompanied by significant weight loss, a persistent fever and/or night sweats
  • are making it exceedingly difficult to swallow
  • are making it harder to breathe.

Can stress cause swollen lymph nodes?

While swollen lymph nodes are a common symptom of stress and anxiety, there does not appear to be any medical link between the condition and the symptom. It is commonly theorised that our bodies may simply become more susceptible to infection when we experience chronic stress – i.e. stress that lasts a long time – which in turn can cause swollen glands[4].

How long do swollen lymph nodes last?

As touched upon already, if you have swollen glands caused by an infection, this will typically last for between a week and 10 days. If you have been experiencing continuously swollen lymph nodes for more than two weeks, it’s time to book an appointment with your GP.

Can swollen lymph nodes cause a sore throat?

To put it simply, yes – alongside a cough and other classic cold/flu symptoms, experiencing a sore throat is common when you are suffering with swollen glands. Your lymph nodes will usually swell in the area located near an infection. For this reason, if you have strep throat, for example, sometimes only one set of lymph nodes will swell, causing a sore throat only on one side.

How to reduce lymph node swelling

The best way of reducing lymph node swelling comes down to understanding the underlying cause of the swelling. For example, swelling caused by cancer will typically require treatment types such as radiation or chemotherapy, or even surgery. However, for the vast majority of cases of swollen lymph nodes (which are caused by infection) the following treatments can help reduce swelling:


[1] https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/worried-about-cancer/the-lymphatic-system

[2] https://www.plymouthhospitals.nhs.uk/how-to-check-your-lymph-nodes

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/swollen-glands/

[4] Segerstrom, Suzanne C, and Gregory E Miller. “Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry.” Psychological bulletin vol. 130,4 (2004): 601-30. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/