When to Worry About Lymph Nodes
Let's check out some fast facts so that the next time you see a little lump in your kiddo's neck, or under the chin, or behind an ear, you take a deep breath and remember that a vast majority of the time, it's totally normal.
- Lymph nodes are our friends.
- People often call them "glands" but they aren't really glands.
- There are hundreds in the body. Including hundreds in the head and neck.
- They are "hotels" for your white blood cells: they temporarily house our immune cells to help us fight stuff!
- Sick? Got an infection somewhere? Even just a bug bite or a zit? Nearby lymph nodes may swell up for a bit.
- Some illnesses, like strep or mono, really commonly cause neck lymph nodes to become big.
- Usually, lymph nodes are the size of a lima bean and are wiggly under the skin.
- Sometimes, they live in chains. Sometimes they're alone.
- Don't Google about lymph nodes. That's just a terrifying path I advise you not take. Ask your doctor lymph node questions. The Goog will just lead you astray.
What do I get asked about most as a pediatrician?
- You can ABSOLUTELY sometimes feel and see lymph nodes in your kid's neck. Kids, in general, are leaner than us, and many of the nodes are close to the surface. My 8 year old has three in his neck that I can see almost all the time when he turns his head.
- Babies have lymph nodes in the back of their head/skull that are very easy to feel.
- If an arm or a leg has an impressive bug bite, allergic reaction, rash, you name it - the lymph nodes that drain the area may get a little larger for a few weeks. So the groin lymph nodes (for the leg) and the armpit LNs (for the arm).
- The general rule is, while lymph nodes may actually get large while your child is sick, they tend to shrink back to normal size in 2-3 weeks.
When do I worry?
- Sometimes, the lymph nodes themselves get infected. They can get red or pretty painful if this happens. We sometimes need to treat them with antibiotics. So, if LNs are red or very painful to touch, bring them in.
- Lymph nodes that remain enlarged after 2-3 weeks of an illness.
- Lymph nodes that are getting larger over time with no illness that seems to be causing it.
- If you notice more numbers of LNs in an area are getting large
- If a child is losing weight, is extremely lethargic (droopy and exhausted all the time), is having unexplained fevers for more than 5 days, or has soaking night sweats, come in.
- Any trouble with swallowing or breathing
I think that's everything.
Get to know Digital Medical Advisor Diane Arnaout, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician at Forest Park
"I didn’t realize how important the job of the pediatrician was until I had kids of my own. My education, experience in medicine, and cocky attitude made me feel like I knew it all before my first one came around. He proceeded to make me very aware of how little I actually knew.
Thankfully he survived, as did the next one, and they’ve helped me to grow and to help YOU, the parent, in so many ways. Sure I’m here to make sure your kids are healthy and happy at all ages. But I’m also here to make sure you’re educated, to make sure your family is thriving, and to make you feel confident in caring for your kids. From diaper rashes to sleep problems to school difficulties - I’m here to help.
I write a lot about common problems and ailments online – you can find me busy on Facebook and Instagram, and I write articles for the Cook Children’s Checkup Newsroom blog. A lot of stuff you’ll hear me say in the office will be typed out on there, too. And we’re in a day and age where the internet helps make connections – you can connect with me on there, or e-mail me anytime.
It takes a village to raise a child – and I’m so grateful to be a part of yours. And as Master Yoda teaches us – “Always pass on what you have learned.” I fully plan to!"