When should you worry about a swollen lymph node?

When should you worry about a swollen lymph node?

When should you worry about a swollen lymph node?

Your body has lymph nodes located in places such as your neck, armpits, chest, stomach and groin. Sometimes referred to as a gland, a lymph node contains cells that help your body fight infections and diseases. The lymph node does this by attacking and getting rid of the germs that enter your body via the lymph fluid.

An important part of your immune system, these glands swell in response to infection or disease. You may notice your lymph nodes swell if you have an illness such as a cold or glandular fever. You might also experience symptoms such as a sore throat or a cough.

While swollen lymph nodes are usually nothing to be concerned about, they can sometimes suggest something more serious – but when should you speak to your doctor about your symptoms?

When to see a doctor about swollen lymph nodes

While swollen lymph nodes are usually nothing to worry about and often get better by themselves within a couple of weeks, there are some instances where you should get them checked out by your doctor[1]. To find out when you should seek further medical advice, keep reading.

The swelling has been there for a few weeks

Most of the time, a lymph node will reduce in size once the infection has disappeared, but sometimes it can remain swollen for some time afterwards. This is not usually a cause for concern, but if you notice that the swelling has not gone away after a few weeks, it’s a good idea to see your doctor[2]. They will be able to check the area and determine if further testing or treatment is needed.

The swelling is getting worse

While lymph nodes can swell, once the infection has gone, they should return to their normal size. If you think that the swelling is getting worse and you’re concerned, you should consult your doctor for advice[1]. In some cases, a lymph node that slowly gets bigger can be a sign of a more serious illness, such as cancer, so it’s important that you get it checked out.

The lymph nodes feel hard when you press them

A healthy lymph node should have a rubbery, fairly soft surrounding when you feel it[2]. If you notice that you have a lymph node that feels particularly hard when you press on it, like a stone, it’s sensible to seek medical attention. This could be another indication of a serious illness, such as cancer, so it’s important to book an appointment to see your GP.

The lymph nodes don’t move easily

Aside from feeling rubbery to the touch, a healthy lymph node should also move with ease when you gently press on it[2]. A lymph node that does not move easily may be a cause for concern, suggesting there could be an underlying illness, so it’s best to get this checked out as soon as possible.

You have difficulty swallowing or breathing

If the lymph nodes in your neck are swollen and they’re making it difficult for you to swallow or breathe, you shouldn’t ignore it. The NHS recommends calling 111 for advice[1]. It’s likely the call operator will ask you questions about your symptoms and suggest what you can do next. They may also be able to arrange a phone call with a nurse or doctor.

You have a sore throat

It’s not unusual for a minor illness, such as strep throat, the flu or even a cold, to cause the lymph nodes in your neck to swell and give you a sore throat at the same time. In this instance, you should be able to soothe the pain of a sore throat using a medicated throat spray, such as one containing a numbing agent to help soothe the infected area. You could also take painkillers, like paracetamol or ibuprofen, and drink plenty of fluids.

However, if you’re struggling with a sore throat and home remedies aren’t making you feel better, you should speak to your GP. They will be able to examine your throat to determine if stronger medication is required, such as a course of antibiotics.

You have a fever

When you have swollen lymph nodes, it’s also common to have a higher temperature than normal. Like the swollen lymph node itself, this is an indication that your body is working to fight an infection[3]. You can make yourself feel more comfortable and try to bring down your temperature by taking over-the-counter painkillers, like ibuprofen or paracetamol, and keeping on top of your fluid intake. If you’re still concerned about your high temperature, you should speak to your GP.


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

[2] https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/glands/swollen-glands

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fever-in-adults/