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When Your Child Has Swollen Lymph Nodes

Outline of child showing lymph nodes in front of and behind ear, on side and back of neck, under chin, in armpits, and in groin. Lymph nodes help the body’s immune system fight infection. These nodes are found throughout the body. Lymph nodes can swell due to illness or infection. They can also swell for unknown reasons. In most cases, swollen lymph nodes (also called swollen glands) aren’t a serious problem. They usually return to their original size with no treatment or when the illness or infection has passed. 

What Causes Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by:

  • Common illnesses, such as a cold or an ear infection

  • Bacterial infections, such as strep throat

  • Viral infections, such as mononucleosis

  • Certain rare illnesses that affect the immune system

How Is the Cause of Swollen Lymph Nodes Diagnosed?

  • The doctor asks about your child’s symptoms and health history.

  • A physical exam is performed on your child. The doctor will check the nodes in the neck, behind the ears, under the arms, and in the groin. These nodes can often be felt from outside the body when they are swollen. If an infection is suspected, the doctor may order more tests as needed.

How Are Swollen Lymph Nodes Treated?

  • Boy lying on couch. Man holding warm compress to side of his neck.Treatment for swollen lymph nodes depends on the underlying cause. In most cases, no treatment is needed at all.

  • Medication can be prescribed by the doctor to treat an infection. Your child should take ALL of the medication, even if he or she starts feeling better.

  • If lymph nodes are painful or tender, do the following at home to relieve your child’s symptoms: 

    • Give your child over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to treat pain and fever. Do not  give ibuprofen to an infant 6 months of age or less, or to a child who is dehydrated or constantly vomiting. Do not give aspirin to a child. This can put your child at risk of a serious illness called Reye syndrome.

    • Apply a warm compress to any painful or tender lymph nodes. Use an item such as a warm, clean washcloth. A bottle filled with warm water, or a potato warmed in a microwave and wrapped in a towel, can be used as a compress.

Call the Doctor

Contact your doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a temperature that rises repeatedly to 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

  • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Painful or tender swollen lymph nodes that don't go away within 2 weeks 

  • Lymph nodes that continue to grow in size

  • A large lymph node that is very hard or doesn't seem to move under your fingers 


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