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Swollen Lymph Nodes: What Your Body Is Trying to Tell You

Swollen Lymph Nodes: What Your Body Is Trying to Tell You

When you’re feeling sick, you may notice some swelling or bumps on the sides of your neck. While these bumps can be a literal pain in the neck, they’re actually a good thing. That swelling is your lymph nodes fighting off illness or infection.

Swollen lymph nodes are a symptom of many illnesses that come with cooler weather – so now’s the perfect time to learn what lymph nodes are, when you should be concerned about swollen lymph nodes, and how vybe urgent care can help.

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are a vital part of your lymphatic system, a complex network of organs and vessels that helps you fight off illness and infection. You have several hundred of these small glands throughout your body, with clusters in your neck, under your arm, and in your chest, belly, and groin. These clusters may feel like little bumps – but most of the time, you don’t feel your lymph nodes at all.

The best way to describe what lymph nodes do comes down to one word: protection. Your lymph nodes act as powerful filters, trapping viruses, bacteria, and even cancer cells before they can infect the rest of your body.

How do lymph nodes work?

Lymph nodes are connected to one another by lymph vessels (tubes that run through your body like veins). These vessels carry lymph – a clear, watery fluid that passes through the lymph nodes located in various parts of your body. For instance, fluid from the head, scalp, and face flows down through lymph nodes in the neck.

As the fluid flows through your lymph nodes, cells called lymphocytes help protect you from any harmful germs that may be present. There are two types of lymphocytes – B-lymphocytes (B-cells) or T-lymphocytes (T-cells). B-cells make antibodies that attach to germs to tell your immune system they need to be eliminated. Some T-cells destroy germs, while others (called memory T-cells) become active again when faced with the same infection.

When you’re sick, your lymphocytes are doing a lot more work and are much busier than usual – and this is when swollen lymph nodes can occur.

Symptoms of swollen lymph nodes

Many illnesses and infections can cause swollen lymph nodes, including colds, flu, strep throat, mono, and more. The symptoms of swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Pain or tenderness when touched
  • Enlarged to the size of a pea or more

Since the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes in the neck is an upper respiratory infection, you may also experience symptoms like:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fever

What causes swollen lymph nodes?

In most cases, swollen lymph nodes mean that your body is fighting an illness or infection. The lymph nodes that swell will often be located close to the infection site. For example, if you have strep throat, you may develop swollen lymph nodes in your neck.

Your lymph nodes should return to normal size when the underlying condition (such as strep throat or the flu) is better. However, this could take a few weeks.

In rare cases, swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of lymphoma, which is cancer of the lymphatic system. In the early stages of lymphoma, patients also report itchy, inflamed skin, unexplained rashes, fevers, night sweats, and unexplained weight loss.

Swollen lymph nodes in your armpits can be a side effect of certain COVID-19 vaccines, specifically the two-dose mRNA vaccine. Scientists believe this is likely because the vaccine evokes a strong immune response from your body. However, this side effect should be temporary. Ask your vybe urgent care provider if you have any questions or concerns.

When to seek medical care

If you’re feeling sick and have swollen lymph nodes, stop by your local vybe urgent care. We can evaluate your lymph nodes and test for the flu, strep throat, or mono if needed. Either walk-in or schedule an appointment online.

Keep in mind that as part of vybe’s antibiotic stewardship efforts, antibiotics like penicillin and amoxicillin are only prescribed for bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as colds or the flu. If your swollen lymph nodes are caused by a viral infection, they should improve when the virus clears.

If you aren’t sick and your lymph nodes are swollen, it’s important to see a doctor ASAP, as it may be a sign of a serious underlying condition. We encourage you to visit vybe right away if your lymph nodes are:

  • Growing rapidly
  • Present for 2-4 weeks or more
  • Very painful
  • Feel hard or fixed in place
  • Draining pus or other substances
  • More than one centimeter in diameter
  • Close to your elbow, collarbone, or the lower part of your neck (these locations may be associated with more serious illnesses.)

vybe urgent care is here for you

We’re here to help diagnose and treat conditions that may be causing swollen lymph nodes. vybe accepts walk-ins for all urgent care services, including strep throat, flu, mono tests, and more.

With 10+ urgent care centers throughout Philadelphia, vybe is here for you when you need us most. Find a location today!