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Children's Symptoms > Skin - Localized Symptoms > Lymph Nodes - Swollen
Lymph Nodes - Swollen

DEFINITION

  • Increased size of a lymph node in the neck, armpit or groin
  • Usually larger than the corresponding node on the other side of the body
  • Normal nodes are usually less than ½ inch (12 mm) across (size of pea or baked bean)

Causes

  • Swollen nodes with a viral infection are usually ½ to 1 inch (12 -25 mm) across.
  • Swollen nodes with a bacterial infection are usually over 1 inch (25 mm) across (size of a quarter).
  • The cervical (neck) nodes are most commonly involved because of the many respiratory infections that occur during childhood.
  • Swollen, tender node under the jawbone (mandible) can be caused by tooth decay and dental abscess.
  • Elsewhere, localized nodes are usually reacting to local skin irritation or infection.

Return to School

  • Swollen lymph nodes alone are not contagious. If the swollen nodes are associated with a cold, sore throat or other infection, your child can return to school after the fever is gone and your child feels well enough to participate in normal activities.

See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If

  • Swollen node is in the neck and sore throat is the main symptom, see SORE THROAT

WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Node in the neck causes difficulty with breathing, swallowing or drinking
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine
  • Overlying skin is red
  • Rapid increase in size of node over several hours
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • 1 or more inches (2.5 cm or more) in size by measurement
  • Very tender to the touch
  • Age under 1 month old
  • Interferes with moving the neck, arm or leg
  • Toothache with swollen node under the jawbone
  • Fever present for more than 3 days

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • In the neck and also has a sore throat
  • Large nodes at multiple locations
  • Cause of the swollen node is unknown
  • Large node persists over 1 month

Parent Care at Home If

  • Mildly swollen lymph node and you don't think your child needs to be seen

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR SMALL LYMPH NODES

  1. Reassurance for Normal Nodes: If you have discovered a pea-sized or bean-sized node (smaller than ½ inch or 12 mm), this is a normal lymph node. Don't look for lymph nodes, because you can always find some (especially in the neck and groin).
  2. Reassurance for Swollen Nodes from a Viral Infection:  Viral throat infections and colds can cause lymph nodes in the neck to double in size. Slight enlargement and mild tenderness means the lymph node is fighting the infection and doing a good job.
  3. Fever or Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen as needed for fever above 102° F (39° C) or pain. Otherwise no treatment is needed.
  4. Avoid Squeezing: Don't squeeze lymph nodes because it may keep them from shrinking back to normal size. Tell your child not to fidget with them.
  5. Contagiousness: Swollen lymph nodes alone are not contagious. If the swollen nodes are associated with a cold, sore throat or other infection, your child can return to school after the fever is gone and your child feels well enough to participate in normal activities.
  6. Expected Course: After the infection is gone, the nodes slowly return to normal size over 2 to 4 weeks. However, they won't ever completely disappear.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Node enlarges to over 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size
    • Node over ½ inch (12 mm) persists over 1 month
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.


Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 8/1/2011

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.


Additional Resources:

 How to use the Adult Health Topics pages
 When to call the doctor
 Reviewers of Clinical Content

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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