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Swollen Glands in the Throat

Understanding the Causes of Swollen Glands in the Throat

Throughout history humans have associated the presence of swollen glands in the throat with illness. As a child, you might recall a parent checking the sides of your throat whenever you were feeling under the weather. At the time, you probably didn’t understand what this was all about, but it’s actually a pretty ingenious way to detect one of the body’s classic signs of illness or distress: swollen glands in the throat. These glands, also known as the lymph nodes, are found all over the body. The most notable glands in the throat are located just behind the ear and along each side of the neck. When these glands begin to swell, this should be taken as a sign that there is definitely something different occurring in the body.

About Lymph Nodes

The lymph nodes are important bean-like tissues located all throughout the body. These glands are part of the lymphatic system which is one of the many essential systems in the human body. The lymphatic system is made up of a series of vessels and glands; the vessels transport fluid, nutrients, and waste material between various tissues throughout the body and the blood. The lymph nodes are responsible for acting as a filter for the fluid that passes through the lymphatic system, taking care to remove toxins and potentially infectious organisms from the fluid. The lymphatic system is an integral component of the body’s immune system because it traps bacteria and viruses inside the nodes and destroys the organisms using lymphocytes, which are essentially souped-up white blood cells.

Causes of Swollen Glands in the Throat

The primary cause behind swollen glands in the throat is infection. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, lymph nodes have to filter bacteria and other infectious organisms from the lymph fluid, but when a full-blown infection has occurred the nodes may find it difficult to keep up with the overwhelming task. An increase in the amount of lymphocytes in the glands, which will be necessary in order to fight off infection, will also contribute to enlargement of the lymph glands in the neck and head. The common cold, flu, and sore throat are a few conditions that are likely to cause swollen glands in the throat. Influenza can also cause several other lymph nodes in the body to swell, such as those located in the armpit and groin. Tonsillitis can also serve as a catalyst for swollen glands in the throat. Tonsillitis is most often caused by a bacterial infection but can also be the result of a virus. In addition to infectious organisms taxing the lymph nodes in the neck and spurring an influx in white blood cell count, inflammation of nearby tissues in the throat can cause them to press upon the lymph nodes causing them to be more pronounced.

Other Symptoms

Although the lymph nodes in the neck and the back of the head can sometimes be felt while they are swollen, this isn’t always so. In cases like this, one may determine the presence of enlarged lymph glands by gently pressing upon the sides of the neck and the area just behind the ears. If the glands are indeed swollen then these areas will likely feel tender and sore. When pressure is exerted against the glands or one turns the neck sharply, the areas containing clusters of lymph glands may become painful. Other symptoms that can indicate swelling include the typical signs of an infection: runny nose, sore throat, cough, sore throat, fever, chills, and “night sweats.” The presence of a tumor near a cluster of lymph glands can also cause them to swell. In this case, the area may feel stiff, hard, and/or may appear to swell at a consistent rate without relief.

When to See a Doctor

Swollen glands in the throat are not usually a cause for worry. If the nodes become swollen as a result of an infection such as strep throat, tonsillitis, flu, or a cold then one may expect the lymph node swelling to subside as the body overcomes the illness. In some cases the swelling will not subside until the illness has been treated with an antibiotic, as is the case with bacterial and fungal illnesses. In this case, one would have to see a doctor in order to receive a proper diagnosis and antibiotic prescription. With a viral infection, one must simply wait until the illness has run its course, after which the size of the lymph nodes will reduce as the need for white blood cells diminishes.

There are other times when swollen glands in the throat should be inspected by a doctor. If the glands appear to swell for no apparent reason then one might consider seeing a doctor in order to rule out any less-common but serious conditions, such as a tumor or cancer. If the glands feel very hard or do not move around when gently pushed with one’s fingertip then this might also warrant a cautionary trip to the doctor. One may also want to visit a doctor if the glands remain swollen for an extended period of time and this symptom is accompanied by weight loss and/or persistent fever.